Exercise is helpful in preventing migraine attacks, but for about a third of people living with migraine, exercise is also a trigger. The best theory is that the sudden increase in cardiac activity causes a spasm in blood vessels in the brain, which is one of the things that can start an attack. Beta-blockers can be an effective preventative for people with exercise-induced migraine.
If you live with exercise-induced migraine, you probably did not have much difficulty identifying this trigger. Although the reason is unclear, movement often triggers migraine attacks. Rotating your body quickly, turning your head, or bending over can all trigger or aggravate migraine symptoms. And, exercise-induced migraine is more likely to occur in people who are exercising in hot, humid weather, or at high altitudes.
- Avoid high impact activity (especially HIIT), or anything that needs a great or sudden burst of physical exertion.
- Do long warm-ups and cooldowns to smooth the cardiac activity.
- Consider smoother sports, like yoga and swimming, over higher intensity sports like boxing or football.
- Stay well hydrated and if possible cool – exercising indoors in an airconditioned environment may be best.
Another thing to consider is whether you have eaten enough, and it is not a drop in blood sugar, or the body aches and any injury after exercising hard, triggering the attack. If you hit your head while exercising, whether, by a fall or being perhaps struck by a ball, that can trigger an attack too.
Research suggests that moderate regular exercise can be an effective way to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Exercise stimulates your body to release natural pain controlling chemicals called endorphins and natural anti-depressant chemicals called enkephalins. A well-planned exercise program could enable you to reduce your drug intake, particularly drugs taken to prevent migraine attacks.
Talk to your doctor about your plans to change how you exercise. You may be eligible for a referral to an exercise physiologist under a chronic care plan to help you work out the best way to exercise and manage your migraine.