Can Exercise Help Migraines?

December 8, 2017

Older woman working out to help prevent and relieve migraines

We all know it – exercise is good for us, exercise helps us lose weight, exercise makes our pants fit better. But research is showing that exercise can do more than stave off a few extra pounds. If you’re looking for a way to prevent migraines, a regular exercise routine could be the answer.

Studies have shown that regular, moderate exercise can reduce the severity and frequency of migraines for some people. Exercising releases endorphins, which are naturally occurring chemicals in the brain. These chemicals make us feel happy and act as a natural pain killer – a plus for anyone trying to reduce headache pain.

Exercise also gets our blood pumping. This helps with circulation, and consequently, improves oxygen flow through our bodies. This is especially important for our brains.

Research has shown that our brains utilize 20% of our body’s overall oxygen supply. Most of us take quick, shallow breaths, which isn’t a great way to enough oxygen to flow to our brains. A lack of oxygen in the brain can cause a slew of problems, including migraines for some people. But when we exercise, we start to breathe deeper, which is a great way to get oxygen to our brains.

So, how should you start? If you’re new to exercise, talk to your doctor about what would be best for you. But some people may choose to start with speed walking, swimming, or yoga since they’re low impact, but will also get you breathing deeply.

If you’re reading this and thinking, But exercising GIVES me a headache – you’re not alone. Many people say working out is a migraine trigger for them. There are a few reasons why this could be the case.

Some common culprits are dehydration, blood sugar dropping due to an inefficient diet, starting a routine that’s too strenuous, or working out in bursts (exercising intensely and sporadically, leaving your muscles stiff and achy).

To set yourself up for success, there are a few things you can do before you work out to help prevent a headache from coming on. To start, in order to avoid any blood sugar dips, wait about 90 minutes after eating to give your body time to digest and absorb nutrients.

Don’t forget to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your work out. Sweating and breathing heavily will cause you to lose fluid, which can cause dehydration and trigger a migraine.

To help prevent “shocking” your body with a work out that’s too intense, be sure to warm up before you start, and cool down slowly when you’re done. This helps your muscles prepare and recover, making it less likely that you’ll experience aches and stiffness.

Try not to get discouraged if you begin a new exercise routine and don’t feel instant results. Give your routine a full six weeks before deciding if they’ve helped your migraines. Since changes can be subtle at first, try keeping a migraine journal; it might help you notice if there are any changes you otherwise would have overlooked.

Neurocore Brain Performance Centers have a comprehensive approach and treatment for many conditions and their symptoms including migraines. Their program incorporates lifestyle modifications regarding diet, exercise, and sleep and includes precision neurofeedback.

Mayo Clinic. (2015, February 14). Exercise Headaches. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/exercise-headaches/symptoms-causes/syc-20372276
The Migraine Trust. Retrieved from https://www.migrainetrust.org/living-with-migraine/coping-managing/exercise/