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Migraines & Headaches Health Center

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Avoid Exercise-Related Migraines

Eat Properly

If you roll out of bed and hit the gym before eating, that's a no-no. "Your blood sugar lowers when you exercise and the drop can bring on a migraine," Rathier says. Plan to eat at least an hour-and-a-half before exercising. That'll leave time for your body to digest the meal.

Avoid sugary junk food, which can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar. It's also important to refuel after your workout. A protein shake and fruit is a good recovery meal. Fiber-rich fruit supplies sugar and glycogen (the body's main energy sources) while keeping blood sugar stable.

Ease Into Exercise

If you're a newbie at the gym, here's something you need to know. "Beginning an exercise plan with only subtly increased levels of exertion -- like starting a very modest walking program -- is important … so you can prove to yourself you're able to exercise without experiencing a migraine attack," says Timothy Houle, PhD, associate professor in the Pain Medications Lab at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Once you find a safe level of exercise, slowly work up to a more challenging one. That'll help you avoid injury and lower your risk of headache.

If you're no stranger to the Stairmaster or weight room, you may need to modify your routine. Don't work out too hard. Pace yourself by switching to more moderate exercise. Instead of powering through that boot camp class at an intensity level of 7 or 8, dial it down to a 5 or 6.

Exertion headaches can occur from strength training. So, if you're prone to headaches, trade in your heavy weights for lighter ones that allow you to do 15 to 40 reps. That's enough to get a good workout, but not so high that it'll trigger a headache. "If your face is turning red and you're getting super sweaty or hot, the weight is too heavy," says Matthew Kohn, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer in New York City.

Whatever your fitness level, never start your session without warming up for 10 to 15 minutes. The sudden demand for oxygen can trigger a migraine. The best warm-up is the exercise you're about to do taken down a notch. And remember, stretching for 5 to 10 minutes at the start and end of your session will prevent muscle tension -- another possible trigger.

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