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You And Your Migraines: How To Exercise Without Pain

May 29, 2008
Exercising when you have chronic headaches is always a challenge. Many times a migraine is made worse by even light activity and most migraineurs want to just lie down and be still as any movement makes the pounding pain increase. So how do you get exercise if you are having regular headaches? One of the best ways to reduce the level of pain and frequency of migraines is through aerobic exercise. The exercise will raise serotonin levels and since serotonin receptors are involved in migraine, this reduces headaches. Endorphins also go up (the brain's happy drug!) so everyone feels good after exercising.

Great. Just great. Sounds fine. But how in the world can you do this when your head is exploding? And if you have a daily headache, just the thought of exercising causes anxiety because the exercise might make the headache soar to a pounding migraine. It sort of starts going around and around and around.

The key here is to break the cycle. Start small but keep repeating the actions. If you have a headache that is mild but bearable, go for a walk. Everyday that you can manage it, do the same. Gradually increase the walking to a fast walk and work up a sweat. There will be days when the migraine attack strikes and you won't be able to exercise, but they may start reducing in frequency.

Another tip is to pick a sport or activity that you love but are afraid to enjoy because of your headaches. Again start small. After all, roller-blading around the block at first go may sound trivial, but after awhile you will be cruising through all the parks and really getting some exercise. Or perhaps you might enjoy an activity you never thought you could conquer..like dancing! With the current national craze for ballroom and salsa dancing, even those with two left feet are getting into the action. With increased physical activity you will have less migraines and maybe even lose a few pounds!

But what if you have some other problems and mobility is limited? Stretching through yoga might be the answer for you. Gentle stretches and learning to hold some poses does exercise muscles, reduce back pain and headaches in general. The deep relaxation that comes with yoga is beneficial for stress reduction and that of course is the main cause of migraines.

Don't forget to pre-hydrate with plenty of water before exercising and have a little bit of food an hour or so before. Headache victims will provoke a headache through dehydration and low blood sugar, and exercise will only magnify these effects. Then if you get a headache during exercise it is natural to blame the exercise and not want to do it again.

Basically, if you are a headache sufferer, exercise has to become a way of life. This will help keep your migraines and even tension headaches manageable. This way you might get away from living a life centered around your headaches, and start living a life.
About the Author
Mary K. Betz MS RPA-C is a practicing Physician Assitant in neurology and specializes in headache medicine. Read more at Headache-adviser.com
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