One Way to Take on Migraines? Exercise, Study Finds
Active & Healthy
There’s no denying that regular exercise yields many benefits: it helps with strengthening, heart health, respiration, weight management, and improves sleep and mood. It’s helpful in taking on a range of health conditions, and, according to a recent study, a good fitness routine can also help with migraine.  It’s an interesting finding and one that may seem counterintuitive to many because exercise can also be a migraine trigger.
So what’s going on here? Does exercise help or harm when it comes to this condition? A closer look at this study will help us sort this out.
Triggers on the Track
First, let’s talk about how exercise can bring on attacks. The relationship, as we’ll see, is more indirect. Generally speaking it’s not working out, itself, that leads to problems. Rather, it’s associated factors that are key. For instance, runners may experience migraine headache due to dehydration, which is a well-established trigger.  In addition, fluctuations in blood sugar can also set things off. Finally, overexertion may also bring migraine on.
Still, these are all easily managed. Ensuring proper hydration, eating fully an hour and a half prior to the workout, and making sure you don’t push yourself too much prevents exercise-related migraine. If you’re a migraineur, you may want to talk to your doctor or trainer to help you figure out a good approach.
A Wide View
Interested in getting a fuller sense of how migraine and exercise are related, Dr. Faisal M. Amin and his colleagues at the Department of Neurology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, performed a wide-ranging review of the relevant research. The researchers identified several trends in the work: a number of the studies noted that those who do not exercise enough were more prone to migraine, and that those who got more exercise were less-likely to experience attack. 
This lead them to conclude that “considering this combination of efficacy, minimal side effects, multiple health benefits and cost savings, exercise programs seem to be an important asset in the management of migraine.”  Concerns about developing attacks were also addressed: While Dr. Faisal and the team did find some evidence of exercise triggering attacks, it was not as robust. As discussed above, such spikes were likely due to confounding factors like dehydration and strain.
Immediate & Long-Term Benefits
Digging deeper into the relevant research, the team was also able to get a sense of how exercise helps both in the short and long term. Chemicals released during exercise have the most profound palliative effect. Specifically, when you engage in physical fitness, your brain releases endogenous opioids, endocannabinoids, and other hormones that attenuate pain, which helps with migraine.  These are the same class of compounds that give people the so-called “runner’s high,” or the feeling of euphoria experienced during longer aerobic sessions.
Over the long-term, the more sustained beneficial effects of regular exercise were shown to also help with migraine. For instance, taking part in fitness routines improves quality of sleep and boosts mood, both of which can help attenuate attacks.  “[P]eople who adhere to exercise despite barriers may become more capable, confident and competent at managing their migraine,” Dr. Amin and his colleagues added.
Figuring Out What Works
It’s not uncommon for migraineurs to become averse to exercise, especially if attacks occur during sessions. That said, if you take steps to ease the likelihood of this happening—such as going for more moderate aerobic work and ensuring hydration—the benefits should outshine the disadvantages. There’s a right way to do it, so if you’re thinking about starting a new regimen, be sure to talk to your doctor. You’ll feel better, and you may find that you end up having less attacks.
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- Amin, Faisal Mohammad, Stavroula Aristeidou, Carlo Baraldi, Ewa K. Czapinska-Ciepiela, Daponte D. Ariadni, Davide Di Lenola, and Cherilyn Fenech et al. 2018. “The Association Between Migraine And Physical Exercise”. The Journal Of Headache And Pain19 (1). Springer Nature America, Inc. doi:10.1186/s10194-018-0902-y.
- Repinski, Karyn. 2018. “Avoid Exercise-Related Migraines”. Webmd. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/features/avoid-exercise-related-migraines#1.