Moving with Migraine: My 6 Exercise Tips

By Jorie

For 2018, I made not so much a resolution, but more a personal vow to myself that I would get up and move more. I’ll be the first one to admit: exercise and I have not always had the greatest relationship, especially where migraines are concerned.

In the past when I’d make goals to lose weight for the New Year, I’d end up failing and reverting back to my old lifestyle habits. It’s not because it was more comfortable, but rather because the ways in which I was trying to lose weight would trigger horrendous migraines, as well as cause me fatigue, joint pain, and irritability. I was clearly doing something wrong, and never figured out how to fix it until recent months.

This year, I made several changes to those old goals I’d made. Firstly, I told myself I would not punish myself if I did not get around to exercising as much as I want to on a particular day. I will not force my body into situations it doesn’t want to be in. Seeing as I have good and bad days with my chronic pain, this has turned out to be a good arrangement because I can then make the best of my good days. Secondly, I am making this all about my health and happiness, not about the number on the scale. This is me wanting and enjoying the movement, not making myself move.

When I finally got myself into that mindset, it became SO easy and almost fell into place effortlessly. I’m not saying it doesn’t take some mental work on my part, but that simple brain shift has made me enjoy the process rather than get up everyday and dread the work-out.

It was also difficult at first to make my exercise migraine-friendly. One study confirmed that up to 38% of migraine patients with migraine experience exercise-induced migraines, which occur during cardio due to many factors. These include not eating adequate fuel-rich foods before moving, not hydrating enough (this one is HUGE), skipping a warm up or cool down, among others. I’ll explain more of this process below.

However, as backwards as this may seem, exercise is actually a GREAT way to prevent migraines! According to The Migraine Trust, studies have shown that exercise changes the levels of many body chemicals. It stimulates your body to release natural pain-controlling chemicals called endorphins and natural anti-depressant chemicals called enkephalins. It is also typically agreed that 30 minutes of moderate activity every day will help you keep a healthy lifestyle — and this is my ultimate aspiration: health and happiness.

Once I got a handle on the exercise-induced migraines, as well as learning how not to trigger joint pain and flare-ups related to my other chronic illnesses, everything became a breeze!

I want this to be a breeze for you too, so here are my top 6 tips for exercising with migraine…

1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

There is a reason this one is at the top of my list. This is at the top of my list even when I’m NOT exercising; it is that important! Water and electrolyte intake is especially essential for moving so you avoid dehydration during the sweat! In one study, people who drank 4 more cups of water a day than they normally did had 21 fewer hours of migraine pain during a 2-week period. 

2. Pace yourself: always do a warm up and a cool down.

One of the biggest causes of migraine during a workout is because we go into it too quickly, which in turn makes our bodies work harder for oxygen. Warming up will prepare your body for the coming cardio, and cooling down will prevent you from getting too fatigued. This can be as simple as doing a few minutes of stretching or yoga.

3. Don’t be an overachiever; work gradually into harder exercises.

A lot of us like to push our abilities and end up on our butts the next day because we overdid it. I’ll be honest, I did this in the beginning! I thought I could take on more than I really could. Start by planning a routine that is good for you. I personally started out with light weights, short walks, yoga that is easy on my RA and EDS, and slow circuit training. 

4. Eat the right foods for fuel before and after exercise (I even keep a food and exercise diary!)

Eat at least a half an hour before moving and an hour after moving–this will prevent low blood glucose which can trigger a migraine. Eat foods that are high in protein and starches. Also, stay away from caffeine before a workout as well. I keep a daily diary (an app on my phone that connects to my FitBit) where I log my foods and the types and length of exercises I did that day. 

5. Take an anti-inflammatory medication before your workout.

Stop it before it starts! This was a tip from one of my old doctors. Taking an anti-inflammatory medicine such as naproxen, ibuprofen, or indocin can help fight your body’s inclination to be triggered, and–obviously–stops the inflammation potentially caused by exercise.

6. Do it for your health and enjoyment, NOT for a number on the scale!

Like I said earlier in this post, exercising will be so much easier if you make it into something you want to do rather than something you have to do or something you’re doing because of a number. Make it fun! Dance to your favorite music, do some soothing yoga, join a workout class with a friend, or just take a walk in the fresh outdoor air. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that your body can handle it, and do it for your own personal growth.


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