Exercise Tips for Migraines and Headaches

Do Yoga, Walk, or Swim to Ease Migraine and Headache Symptoms

Although exercise can trigger migraines and/or headaches in some people, a regular exercise routine can actually help reduce the overall number of migraines and/or headaches you experience, as well as the frequency of your symptoms.

As part of a comprehensive treatment plan for migraines and headaches, exercise can help you manage migraines and headaches safely and effectively. But what exercises are most beneficial for dealing with migraines and headaches? This article highlights the benefits of exercise as well as exercise tips for managing migraines and headaches.

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How Often Should You Exercise with Migraines and/or Headaches?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (eg, walking) and 2 or more days a week of muscle-strengthening exercises (eg, light weight lifting) each week.1 But it's important to work in flexibility exercises, such as yoga, into your routine, too.

While the CDC's exercise recommendation is good goal to set, you should listen to your body. If you can't exercise for 150 minutes every week, that's okay: You know your body best.

And because sometimes exercise can actually trigger a migraine or headache, look out for the warning signs of migraines and headaches when you're working out. If you start to feel a migraine or headache come on, stop exercising.

As always, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, and if you experience new pain or more intense migraines and/or headaches during or after exercise, call your doctor right away.

Exercise Benefits for Migraines and Headaches
Below are some of the benefits of exercise for migraines and headaches. Exercise can:

  • boost your mood and feeling of well—being
  • decrease your sensitivity to pain because exercise releases endorphins-the
  • feel-food hormones
  • made in the brain
  • promote a healthy sleep pattern (helps you fall asleep and stay asleep), which also lowers stress levels
  • reduce the severity of migraine and headache symptoms as well as the frequency of attacks

Exercises to Do for Migraines and Headaches
Here are some exercise ideas that can help you manage migraines and headaches.

  • Biking, swimming, and walking are great ways to fit in aerobic exercise and help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines and headaches.
  • Meditation exercises, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques can ease your mind-and your pain-by helping you focus on the present moment as well as helping you foster a positive attitude.
  • Yoga poses and other types of stretching can help reduce muscle tightness and tension in the head, neck, and shoulders. This is important because when these muscles are tight, and it can make migraine and headache symptoms worse. Yoga helps loosens these muscles as well as helps you reduce stress.

Exercise Tips for Migraines and Headaches
To help manage migraines and headaches, you can also integrate the tips below into your overall exercise plan.

Have a healthy posture: Poor posture can put extra stress on head, neck, and shoulder muscles, which can lead to a migraine or tension headache. Maintaining a healthy posture—including when you work out—can reduce the frequency of migraines and headaches. Your shoulders should be back, ears should be in line with your shoulders, and the top of your head (called the "crown") should be pointing toward the ceiling.

Limit high-impact exercise: When you have migraines and/or headaches, intense exercise, such as running, can aggravate head pain and other symptoms.

Make a date with yourself: Be sure to pencil in your workout sessions so you don't forget. Doing this helps you stay committed and focused on your exercise goals.

Warm-up and cool down: Warm-up exercises prepare your body for physical activity, while stretching after exercise signals your body to cool down. For every workout, aim to warm-up for 10 minutes and cool down for 10 minutes.

Researchers know that regular exercise can reduce your need for migraine and headache medications, but they're still exploring the full benefits of exercise for migraines and headaches.2,3

Because exercise is such an important part of living a full, healthy life with migraines and/or headaches, talk to your doctor about beginning an exercise plan that can help you manage migraine- and headache related- pain.

Updated on: 11/19/15