In a 2012 Dutch study, roughly 38 percent of participants experienced migraines as a direct result of exercise. Of those, more than half stopped participating in the particular sport or exercise to reduce or eliminate their migraines. While the reasons for exercise-induced migraines are unclear, they most often occur in association with more strenuous sports, such as weightlifting, rowing, running, tennis, swimming, and soccer. (link to study)
However, you may not want to stop your exercise and may be looking for a way to prevent exercise-induced migraines. In this article, we’ll talk some more about how to prevent or lessen the severity of exercise-induced migraines.
8 practical tips to avoid exercise-induced migraines
- Be gentle. Actions such as rotating your body quickly, turning your head suddenly, or bending over can all trigger or aggravate migraine symptoms. Start with something more gentle like brisk walking, tai chi or pilates. Yes, you can get many benefits from exercise without training for an Ironman.
- Beat the heat. Exercise-induced migraines are more likely to occur in people who are exercising in hot, humid weather, or at high altitudes. Go to a gym that has A/C, or stick to early morning/ evening workouts.
- Drink plenty of water during exercise: Many people walk around every day dehydrated, which of course can be worsened by exercise. In a study, dehydrated people who drank 4 more cups of water per day, had 21 fewer hours of migraines over a two-week period. They also noticed that their migraines were less severe. Your health coach can help you avoid over- or under- hydration by teaching you to listen to your body’s clues.
- Eat well before and after exercise: Eat a meal a couple of hours before exercise so that a steep drop in blood sugar during exercise doesn’t bring on a migraine. Of course, avoid sugary junk food that can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar. You should also replenish yourself after an intense workout, by eating a good recovery meal.
- Ease into exertion. If you intend to run a few miles a day, do start by brisk walking for about 10 minutes, then building up to your target slowly. Exertion migraine headaches can also occur due to strength training, so exchange your heavier weights for relatively lighter ones. Also, whatever your fitness level, never begin your exercise without a warm up routine. Before you begin a new exercise routine, consult your doctor.
- Keep an exercise diary. Keep a migraine and exercise diary to track your exercise routine and also when your migraine attacks occur. A diary will give you an idea of the effect that exercise has on your migraine, thereby allowing you to alter your exercise routine, if necessary. Details to record include the date and time of your exercise, how you prepared and the type and duration of exercise. What’s important is that you understand your body, especially when it comes to exercise. When exercising, if you feel uncomfortable, simply stop. Note this episode in your diary, so you can understand your triggers.
- Avoid other obvious triggers. If you are trying to ramp up your exercise routine, cut back on other potential triggers like alcohol, caffeine and snack foods.
- Look deeper. Of course, in the Migraine Freedom plan we work on a longer term approach to reducing internal stressors like imbalances in your hormones or digestive system.
Overall exercise is still helpful for migraine sufferers, so don’t give up on it entirely. Yoga, for example, has been shown to help bring us out of fight-or-flight and even reduce migraine frequency and intensity. Over time, as your body heals, you may be able to get back to the sports and more strenuous activities you love.
Want more? I recently connected with fitness expert Rachel Holmes to talk about how to get to the bottom of migraines and avoid exercise-induced migraines. Check it out and share with a friend!
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