Exercise Induced Migraine

By 27 September 2018April 24th, 2019MAI News

If you are one of the many people who finds that exercise or physical activity are triggers for your migraine, you’re certainly not alone. In a study almost 40% of migraineurs asked reported physical activity as a trigger. Many of them gave up as a result.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that exercise is one of the most beneficial things you can do as a migraineur – obviously when you’re physically able to.

Some of the most common reasons for exercise induced migraine are;

  • Change of Routine; you’ve started a new exercise routine at the same time as a new diet. These changes to your lifestyle, food and routine can trigger migraine
    • -Start slowly and keep a diary in case you notice any new triggers alongside the new routine
  • You’re dehydrated
    • -You need to drink plenty of water, especially during exercise
  • The glare from the sun can be a piercing trigger for many migraineurs.
    • -As most exercise is done outside, and the sun occasionally shines in Ireland, a good pair of shades and a baseball or other hat might help.
  • The sport you’ve chosen or are involved in is physically tough on your body
    • -Think of Rugby! Brilliant sport but very physically tough, having your brain rattled can trigger migraine and of course cause concussion. If at all possible, choose a low impact, smooth action sport or exercise like cycling, swimming, yoga or rowing.
  • You skipped a meal before exercising and your blood sugar level is down
    • -Always try to eat something before exercising – if you haven’t got time for a full meal, eat a healthy snack. Try foods with slow-release carbohydrates like whole-wheat bread or wheat tortillas, non-starchy veg like sweet potatoes and some fruits like apples, peaches… or suck a glucose sweet. Watch out for the sports energy drinks – they may be good for athletes alright but for athletes who are migraineurs they can be a problem; some of them have an artificial sweetener called Aspartame in them and this is a possible trigger
  • You start exercising suddenly and your body has a sudden demand for oxygen, this in combination with strenuous exercise can cause you to over-exert and overheat
    • -When it gets beyond enjoyable or is causing more trouble than relief, stop. In any sport or exercise, don’t push yourself further than you know you can go.
    • -To avoid overheating, try wearing layers so you can strip off to cool off without causing a scandal, and keep the fluids going, they help with heat too
  • If you’re tired or haven’t had enough sleep then neither your body nor your head will cope very well with any kind of physical activity
    • -Try to get into a good sleep routine along with everything else.

Studies have shown that the best kind of exercise for migraineurs is mild and regular aerobic exercise, but this shouldn’t be a burden for you, it should be something you enjoy doing and you should feel good afterwards – albeit a little breathless maybe. Pick something you know you’ll like. Sometimes, even a quick walk around the block can help. Of course it’s always a good idea to keep a diary, for patterns, medication effectiveness and to show whether or not what you’re doing is having an effect on your migraines.

With thanks to The Migraine Trust in England, and Dr. Eddie O’Sullivan of Cork University Hospital Migraine Clinic for their insight (Dr. O’Sullivan’s insight and additional advice are contained in our book; Migraine Not Just Another Headache, available at €13.25 including P & P throughout Ireland)