Migraine is a form of severe, recurring headache that is associated with changes in blood flow as well as the brain network linked to the sensation of pain. Although high-intensity strenuous exercise sometimes triggers migraine attacks, there is strong evidence to suggest that regular moderate exercise can reduce the frequency of migraines .
How does exercise affect migraine?
In the scientific literature, the impact of physical exercise on migraine attacks is mixed. In general, exercise is considered a headache trigger; however, its potential impact as a non-pharmacological intervention for chronic pain management cannot be ignored.
Many population-based studies show that a reduced level of physical activity is associated with a higher incidence and frequency of migraine attacks. On the other hand, physical activity is linked to better management of migraines and migraine-related disabilities, including sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety . Additionally, the habit of daily exercise can reduce the intensity of migraine symptoms.
However, exercise sometimes acts as a migraine trigger , possibly due to an increase in blood pressure. This is the main reason for reduced physical activity in migraine patients. It is therefore important to know the correct proportions and intensity of exercise to avoid possible negative effects.
How does exercise trigger migraines?
There are many reasons why exercise can make migraines worse. For example, suddenly initiating an exercise program without proper planning can cause the onset of a migraine due to a sharp increase in the body's demand for oxygen.
Likewise, starting exercise on an empty stomach can cause blood sugar levels to drop sharply , leading to the onset of a migraine. Insufficient fluid intake before, during or after exercise can also trigger a migraine attack due to dehydration in the body.
Likewise, starting exercise on an empty stomach can cause blood sugar levels to drop sharply, leading to the onset of a migraine. Insufficient fluid intake before, during, or after exercise can also trigger a migraine attack because the body becomes dehydrated.
Additionally, migraine has been associated with an increased risk of stroke and patients with migraine are encouraged to minimize risk factors for stroke by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity. On the other hand, repeated anaerobic exercise can trigger migraine by increasing the level of lactic acid in the blood.
What types of exercises are beneficial for migraine?
Studies have shown that regular practice of light to moderate aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, dancing, jumping rope, but also pilates etc. These exercises help improve cardio-respiratory endurance.
It is recommended to warm up properly and gradually increase exercise intensity before moving on to high-intensity exercise. This helps reduce the risk of a migraine attack. When starting a new exercise session, it is important to start with low-intensity exercises. The intensity can be gradually increased if the patient feels fit and comfortable with the change.
To maintain normal blood sugar levels, it is necessary to eat at least one hour before exercise . Additionally, one should consume sufficient fluid before, during and after exercise to maintain body hydration . Water or isotonic drinks, which contain a balanced amount of minerals and glucose, can help maintain the body's homeostasis during exercise. Finally, natural treatments can help reduce migraine symptoms .
- American Migraine Foundation. 2015. Effects of Exercise on Headaches and Migraines. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/
- The Migraine Trust. 2019. Exercise. www.migrainetrust.org/living-with-migraine/coping-managing/exercise/
- Amin FM. 2018. The association between migraine and physical exercise. The Journal of Headache and Pain. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6134860/