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Avoiding Exercise-Related Migraines

Warming up, knowing your triggers, and staying hydrated are key.

Know Your Migraine Triggers.

Migraine triggers vary from person to person. For Helen French, a 36-year-old computer programmer in Washington, D.C., migraine triggers are dehydration and bright sun. "When you put those two together," she says, "if I'm not careful about hydrating, then I can really get myself in trouble." Flickering light, such as when she rides her bike down a wooded path, is a particular problem.

A few years ago, French got dehydrated while kayaking. The dehydration, plus the sun sparkling on the water, led to chronic migraine that occurred daily for six weeks.

So French now takes precautions when she exercises outside. She wears sunglasses, eats healthy food before she heads out, and wears a backpack-style water carrier. She also takes medicines daily to help prevent migraines. And she knows what not to do. "I avoid hot yoga -- that's just an automatic migraine for me," French says.

Don't Avoid Exercise.

There's no need to sit on the sidelines. Moderate exercise may actually help.

Several studies have found that people who got regular exercise had fewer, shorter, and less severe migraines than those who weren't active. Those studies were small, and they didn't show exactly how much exercise, or what type, is best for migraine patients. Still, "increasing the level of fitness is one predictor for migraine improvement," one team of researchers wrote.

If you only get headaches when you exercise, that's a warning sign, Ailani says. It could indicate a neurological problem or abnormal blood flow to the brain. In that case, call your doctor to rule out other health problems.

Other warning signs include sudden headaches, numbness or tingling, or what may feel like the worst headache of your life. If that happens, call 911 right away, as it could be a sign of a medical emergency.

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Reviewed on June 06, 2012

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