Exercise and Migraines: Finding Balance for Better Health

Exercise and Migraines: Finding Balance for Better Health


Living with migraine attacks can significantly impact our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Migraine attacks can disrupt daily life, causing intense pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. While exercise is often recommended as a helpful activity for managing migraine attacks, it’s crucial to find the right balance to avoid triggering or worsening migraine attacks. In this article, we will explore the relationship between exercise and migraine attacks, provide tips for incorporating exercise into a migraine management plan, and discuss the potential benefits and considerations to keep in mind.

The Connection Between Exercise and Migraines

Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on reducing the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks. When done correctly and in moderation, exercise can help improve overall health and migraine management. It is essential to find the right balance and choose exercises that suit your individual needs and preferences.

Types of Exercise and Their Potential Impact on Migraines

There are different types of exercises that can potentially affect migraine attacks in various ways:

  • Aerobic exercises: These exercises, such as walking, jogging, or swimming, increase cardiovascular fitness and promote better blood flow, which can help reduce migraine attacks. For example, a study published in the journal Headache found that regular aerobic exercise for 40 minutes, three times a week, reduced the frequency of migraine attacks in participants.
  • Flexibility and stretching exercises: Activities like yoga or tai chi can enhance body flexibility and relaxation, potentially reducing stress levels, a common trigger for migraine attacks. Gentle stretches and yoga poses that focus on releasing tension in the neck, shoulders, and back can be particularly beneficial.
  • Strength training exercises: These exercises, involving resistance or weightlifting, can help improve muscle strength and posture, potentially reducing tension and the occurrence of migraine attacks. Strength training exercises targeting the upper back and neck muscles may contribute to better posture and reduce the risk of trigger points that can trigger migraine attacks.

Tips for Exercising with Migraines

Consultation with Healthcare Provider or Migraine Specialist

Before starting an exercise routine, it is essential to consult with your healthcare provider or a migraine specialist. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your medical history and individual condition. It is important to discuss the frequency, duration, and intensity of exercises to ensure they align with your health goals. Your healthcare provider may also suggest modifications or specific exercises to avoid based on your migraine triggers.

Start Slow and Gradually Increase Intensity

When incorporating exercise into a migraine management plan, it’s crucial to start slow and gradually increase the intensity over time. Easing into an exercise routine helps avoid overexertion and reduces the risk of triggering migraine attacks. Listen to your body and pay attention to warning signs of potential migraine triggers, such as increased pain or discomfort. For example, if you are new to exercise, you can begin with 10 minutes of gentle activity, such as walking, and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your fitness level improves.

Warm-Up and Cool-Down Routines

Proper warm-up and cool-down routines are essential when exercising with migraine attacks. Warm-up exercises, such as light stretching or gentle movements, prepare the body for physical activity and can help prevent migraine attacks. Cool-down exercises, such as gentle stretches or relaxation techniques, help the body gradually return to a resting state, reducing the risk of migraine attacks. For example, a warm-up routine might include brisk walking or cycling for a few minutes, followed by stretching the major muscle groups.

Identify and Avoid Triggers

Understanding your personal migraine triggers is vital for exercising with migraine attacks. Certain exercises or environmental factors may trigger migraine attacks for some individuals. It’s crucial to adjust your exercise routine accordingly, avoiding triggers that may increase the risk of migraine attacks. Keeping a migraine diary can help identify patterns and make informed decisions about exercise choices. For example, if you notice that intense aerobic exercises in a hot environment trigger migraine attacks, you may choose to exercise indoors or during cooler times of the day.

Benefits of Exercise for Migraines

Improved Cardiovascular Health

Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercises, promotes better cardiovascular health, leading to improved blood flow and reduced migraine attacks. Engaging in activities that raise the heart rate and increase circulation can have a positive impact on managing migraine attacks. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, spread throughout the week.

Stress Reduction and Mood Enhancement

Exercise is known to reduce stress levels and enhance mood through the release of endorphins, also known as “feel-good” hormones. By incorporating stress-reducing exercises, such as yoga or meditation, individuals with migraine attacks can potentially decrease the frequency and severity of attacks. Consider including stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation along with your regular exercise routine.

Better Sleep Quality

There is a strong relationship between exercise, sleep, and migraine attacks. Engaging in regular physical activity can help individuals with migraine attacks achieve better sleep quality. Improved sleep patterns can positively impact migraine management by reducing fatigue and promoting overall well-being. Try to avoid intense exercise too close to bedtime, as it may interfere with your ability to fall asleep.

Considerations for Exercising with Migraines

Timing of Exercise

Finding the optimal time to exercise can minimize the risk of migraine attacks. Some individuals find it helpful to exercise in the morning, while others prefer later in the day. Experiment with different times of the day to determine what works best for you. Consistency is key in establishing a regular exercise schedule to maximize the benefits.

Hydration and Nutrition

Staying hydrated and maintaining proper nutrition is essential for individuals with migraine attacks. Dehydration and certain dietary factors can trigger or worsen migraine attacks. It is crucial to drink enough fluids and eat a balanced diet to support overall health and minimize the risk of migraine attacks. Be sure to consume plenty of water before, during, and after exercise, especially in hot weather.

Monitoring for Post-Exercise Symptoms

After exercising, it’s important to monitor for any post-exercise symptoms that could indicate potential migraine triggers. Keep track of any changes in pain levels, the presence of aura, or other migraine symptoms and record them in a migraine diary. If post-exercise symptoms persist or worsen, it may be necessary to consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation.


Exercise can play a significant role in managing migraine attacks and improving overall health. By understanding the connection between exercise and migraine attacks, individuals can incorporate appropriate exercises into their migraine management plans. It’s essential to find the right balance, consult with healthcare professionals, and listen to your body to avoid triggering or worsening migraine attacks. With informed choices and a personalized exercise routine, individuals with migraine attacks can enhance their well-being and take control of their health.

Jenny from Migraine Buddy

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