Take control of your Migraines!
Authored by Doctors and Health professionals.

Before a migraine crisis, your brain sometimes craves for sugar: Some people feel like eating chocolate before their migraine.

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Regular physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle, however, we can all feel challenged to fit exercise into our hectic schedules. For those experiencing headache disorders, particularly migraine, the challenges may be more complex than just scheduling.

Some people with migraine report that physical activity seems to trigger their attacks, while others report physical activity or exertion will make an existing headache much worse. For some people with tension-type headaches, they may say that exercise often helps to improve their headache. So, whether you exercise already, or find your headaches are cramping your style, and if you want to make exercise a priority for your health and headache management, read on.

What are the benefits of exercise?

So we have all heard that exercise is a healthy thing that we should all be doing on a regular basis.
If you are not convinced, perhaps the following points may persuade you:
Exercise is often recommended by doctors and health care professionals as a preventative treatment for headache problems.

Participating in regular physical activity can also help you to get a better night’s sleep.

Cardiovascular exercise, the kind that gets your heart pumping and makes you sweat produces a hormone called endorphins – the body’s natural analgesic. This type of exercise not only can help you fight pain.

Cardiovascular or aerobic activity improves circulation and digestion, and aids with the elimination of toxins from the body.

Exercise can be a great physical and mental outlet for stress -cardiovascular exercise can decrease the circulating levels of stress hormones. This, in turn, can help you to relax.

Static stretching can decrease muscle tension, increase joint range of motion, support improved postural habits, and feels good.

Feeling more physically fit can contribute to improvements in your mood, self-esteem and overall sense of well-being.
Are you convinced yet
Do you wish you regularly participated in an exercise routine

Do you do 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise, activity that elevates your heart rate and makes you sweat  3-4 times per week

Do you want to make a commitment to a healthy lifestyle by making exercise part of your routine

Has your experience with headaches curtailed or interfered with your exercise routines
If you have answered  YES to many of the questions above, then visit the Exercise and Migraine Hints ‘n’ Tips page as well as the Additional Resources page.
According to the 1995 Physical Activity Monitor, Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute, the following are the most popular activities people in Canada fit into their schedules:


How can you make active living part of your daily routine

Getting started with an exercise routine is very often the most difficult part
The following are a few suggestions to get you started with a routine you will stick with:

      you must genuinely believe that you can participate in an exercise routine and  that it will           beneficial to your overall health and well-being

make your exercise routine a priority and communicate this priority to family and friends so they can support you in your efforts

come up with some goals specific to what you would like to accomplish by participating in routine exercise ,i.e., tone muscles, lose weight, improve endurance, etc.

discuss your exercise goals with your doctor to ensure that to ensure there are no medical risks or concerns

think about the activities you enjoy ,i.e., gardening, hiking, skiing, etc. and the seasons of the year during which these activities can be done – build a routine that includes these activities

consider your work and family schedules/routines and think of days and times of day that you will be able to consistently participate in an exercise routine – be realistic ,i.e., participation in a daily exercise program may not be realistic for you.

think about how you can work exercise into your day-to-day activities in small bits ,i.e., take the stairs at work, walk on your lunch break, walk to the playground with your kids instead of driving, take stretch breaks throughout your day, etc.

if you are unsure of what you want and need to do as part of an exercise routine talk to professionals

start slowly and gently, easing yourself into a routine – you can progress your routine as you go

find an exercise buddy or group that share your goals – you can motivate each other, have fun and is a good way to keep yourself accountable to your exercise goals

costs may be something to consider – exercise does not have to include a gym club membership or sophisticated home equipment, it can be as inexpensive as a good pair of walking shoes and the great outdoors

Aim to participate in 20-30 minutes of exercise 3-4 times per week.

The duration of your exercise participation can be cumulative ,i.e., instead of 30 minutes at once, you can break it up into two 15-minute sessions.

It is recommended that you avoid strenuous exercise during moderate to severe migraine pain. Strenuous exercise encourages vasodilation,the blood vessels get bigger and blood flow through them increases, and during a migraine, the blood vessels in your head are already there! This could intensify your headache pain. Most individuals with migraine will tell you they would rather avoid exercise during a migraine anyway.

To try to avoid headaches triggered by exercise, ensure that you warm up and cool down as part of your exercise routine. Also, be certain that you do not increase the intensity and duration of your exercise too quickly, especially if you are just getting started, or if your exercise activities change from season to season i.e., running or if you are more active in the spring and summer months than over the winter.

Ensure that you drink plenty of water throughout your day and particularly while you exercise. The cells of the body need water to function. The average person should consume 2-3 liters of water, that’s just plain old boring water per day, and more when they exercise. Some people with migraine are more sensitive than the person who does not get migraines to dehydration – this may trigger an attack.

Include a variety of exercise types in your routine – cardiovascular activity, strengthening/resistance training and stretching for maximal overall benefit.

Do more intense exercise about 3 hours before you go to bed as it can energize you, and thus keep you awake. Gentle exercises, such as light weights and stretching close to bed time are just fine.
Calculating an exercise intensity and target heart rate can be a helpful measure to guide you through your exercise routine. You can do cardiovascular exercise at an intensity of 60% of your maximum target heart rate for your age, see table below and derive benefit. You can calculate your target heart rate for a given exercise intensity with the following formula:
220-age X desired % of maximal heart rate
For example: 220-35 X 60% = 111 beats/min.
This means that for a 35-year old person working at 60% of their age-appropriate exercise intensity, their target heart rate is 111 beats per minute.
Sample Calculations of Exercise Intensity:


AGE (years)

HEART RATE RANGE (beats/min.)




















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