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  • Writer's pictureSam Kelokates

The 4 Best Low Impact Exercises for Migraine

Migraine is more than just a headache, it's a complex neurological condition that can significantly disrupt daily life.


Characterized by intense, throbbing headache often accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual disturbances, migraine can debilitate those who experience them frequently.


Composite image divided into four quadrants, each showing a different exercise. Top left shows a person walking in a park on a sunny day. Top right displays a person practicing yoga in a calm, plant-filled room. Bottom left features an individual lifting weights in a gym. Bottom right depicts someone using a recumbent bike in a fitness setting. Each scene captures the essence of each exercise in a clear and engaging manner

For many, the quest for relief is ongoing and multifaceted.


Exercise, often overlooked, plays an important role in long-term migraine management. Engaging in regular physical activity has been shown to decrease the frequency and severity of attacks.


It not only improves physical health but also enhances mental well-being by reducing stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for migraine.


In this blog, we will explore the best low-impact exercises suited for individuals with migraine. Exercise offers unique benefits that can help with migraine.


Whether you are a longtime sufferer or newly diagnosed, understanding how to incorporate these activities into your routine can be a game-changer in your approach to migraine management.

 

Understanding the Benefits of Exercise for Migraines

Regular exercise is widely heralded for its general health benefits, but its specific advantages for migraine sufferers are equally compelling. Engaging in physical activity can significantly mitigate the frequency and intensity of migraine episodes.


It accomplishes this through several mechanisms: by promoting the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers and mood lifters, by decreasing the body's stress hormones like cortisol, and by improving sleep patterns, which can often be disrupted by chronic pain.


Research consistently supports exercise as a potent non-pharmacological treatment for migraines. A systematic review published in the Journal of Headache and Pain points out that both aerobic exercise and strength training can reduce the severity of migraine symptoms.


These studies suggest that exercise affects migraine through neurochemical changes in the brain and improvements in cardiovascular health, both of which can play a role in reducing migraine pain and frequency.


Furthermore, exercise contributes to better regulation of neurotransmitters that are directly involved in migraine pathways, such as serotonin and beta-endorphins.


The evidence is clear: incorporating exercise into one's daily routine can be a powerful tool in the battle against migraine, providing a natural and effective way to manage and reduce the impact of this debilitating condition.


What Exercise is Best for Migraine?


Finding the right exercise that doesn't exacerbate migraine symptoms but rather helps manage them can be challenging. Here are four low-impact options that are highly regarded for their benefits to migraine sufferers.


Yoga: A Gentle Approach to Migraine Management


Yoga, known for its soothing and restorative practices, is particularly beneficial for those battling migraine.


It combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to create a holistic workout that can reduce stress, enhance flexibility, improve posture, and decrease muscle tension. These factors are crucial since stress and muscle tightness are common triggers for migraine attacks.


Incorporating regular yoga practice into your daily routine can help decrease the frequency and severity of migraine attacks, providing a natural and peaceful way to manage symptoms.


Walking: The Most Accessible Form of Exercise


Walking is perhaps the simplest way to incorporate exercise into your life without needing any special equipment or significant time commitments. It improves cardiovascular health, which in turn can help reduce the severity of migraine symptoms.


Regular walking increases blood circulation, helping to moderate stress levels and improve sleep quality—both of which can be beneficial for migraine sufferers.


To integrate walking into your daily routine, consider short walks during breaks at work, walking to nearby destinations instead of driving, or even a leisurely stroll in the evening. The key is consistency and enjoying the process, as the mental benefits are just as important as the physical ones.


Resistance Exercise: Building Strength to Combat Migraine


Strength training might not be the first exercise option that comes to mind for migraine management, but its benefits are notable.


It can help increase pain thresholds and improve overall muscular endurance, which in turn can decrease the frequency of migraine attacks. Resistance exercises strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles, areas often implicated in migraine pain.


Simple resistance exercises that can be performed at home or in the gym include shoulder shrugs, neck isometrics, and arm raises using light weights or resistance bands.


These exercises help in strengthening the muscles without putting excessive strain on the body, making them ideal for migraine sufferers.


Cycling: Low-Impact Cardio for Migraine Sufferers


Cycling is another excellent form of aerobic exercise that is low-impact yet effective for improving overall fitness and managing migraines. It's particularly advantageous for those who prefer or require seated exercises.


Cycling, whether stationary or outdoor, allows for adjusting intensity levels and can be a comfortable exercise option for those with posture-related migraine triggers.


For beginners, starting with a stationary bike is often easier. It allows control over pace and resistance in a stable, predictable environment, which is crucial for those who might feel vulnerable to migraine triggers outdoors.


Gradually, as confidence and condition improve, transitioning to outdoor cycling can also be explored for its added benefits of fresh air and scenery, which enhance the mental health aspect of exercise.


Incorporating these exercises into your routine offers a balanced approach to managing migraines, with each type of exercise contributing uniquely to your overall health and well-being.


Can Light Exercise Help a Migraine? Starting Your Exercise Journey Safely


For many individuals suffering from migraine, beginning an exercise program can seem daunting.


The fear that physical activity could trigger a migraine is common, yet exercise is frequently recommended as a part of comprehensive migraine management. The key lies in how you approach exercise, particularly when you are prone to migraines.


Starting Safely with Realistic Expectations


It's essential to set realistic goals when you begin exercising, especially if migraine is a part of your life. Suppose your long-term goal is to lift weights three times a week for 30 minutes, but you're currently not exercising at all.


In that case, it’s unrealistic—and potentially harmful—to jump straight to this level of activity. Your body requires time to adjust to new physical stressors, and this adjustment period might be longer for someone with migraines.


Start small and gradually increase your activity level as your body adapts.


The Rule of TOOs: Too Hard, Too Soon, Too Often


When starting an exercise program, remember the rule of TOOs: avoid doing too much, too soon, and too often.


This guideline is particularly important if you are a beginner or recovering from a recent migraine flare.


It's advisable to space out exercise sessions to give your body enough time to recover—typically 48-72 hours is ideal for beginners or those sensitive post-flare.


Continue to be mindful of how long sessions last, as well as how intense. For many people I work with one of the biggest problems they face is doing more than their body is ready tolerate even though the during the exercise session they felt it wasn't challenging enough.


Adopting a Flexible Approach to Exercise


It's not all-or-nothing with exercise. If you start a workout and only have the energy for one exercise, that's perfectly okay.


It’s important to listen to your body and be willing to adjust your workout plan based on how you feel that day. You might need to stop early, reduce the resistance, lower the number of repetitions, or switch to a less strenuous exercise.


Learning how your body responds to various exercises, intensities, and routines is a gradual process, and it's okay to make adjustments as needed.


Being Mindful of Environmental and Other Triggers


The environment in which you exercise can significantly affect your experience, especially if it's filled with potential migraine triggers.


Many gyms are bright, loud, busy, and can sometimes be overwhelming, not to mention the odors from cleaning solutions which can also be irritants. If you find yourself having a migraine after exercising, it might not be the physical activity itself but the combination of environmental factors and other triggers.


Additionally, be aware of other common triggers such as dehydration and low blood sugar, and even external factors like weather changes. If you know that certain conditions, like storms, are likely to trigger a migraine, it’s wise to reschedule your workout to a more suitable day.


Always prioritize your well-being and do not force a workout if the conditions aren't right.


Conclusion


Incorporating low-impact exercises into your routine can significantly enhance your migraine management strategy.


Activities like yoga, walking, resistance training, and cycling offer substantial benefits, from reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks to improving overall physical and mental health.


These exercises provide a safe and effective way to not only combat the physical symptoms associated with migraines but also improve your quality of life.


I encourage you to explore these low-impact exercises and observe the changes in your migraine symptoms.


Each person's response to exercise can vary, so it’s important to choose activities that you enjoy and that fit comfortably into your lifestyle.


Starting slow, setting realistic goals, and being mindful of your body’s signals and environmental triggers can help you maintain a sustainable exercise regimen without fear of triggering a migraine.


If you’re looking for more personalized advice or need assistance in crafting an exercise plan that works for you, don't hesitate to schedule a free consultation!


Our team at Kelos Physical Therapy is dedicated to helping you achieve better health through tailored exercise programs.

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