Do you struggle with motivating yourself to exercise? Even on the low or no pain days I used to find it hard to get moving. I was afraid that exercising might trigger an attack, or hurt, or be too tiring. Sound familiar?
Eventually I did a lot more research into it, and began to experiment for myself. I figured out what level of intensity was right for me and wouldn’t bring on an attack, reminded myself of activities I used to enjoy and really came to appreciate the benefits of exercise for migraine. This shift changed my approach completely, I don’t tiptoe around exercise for fear of Migraine any more, I exercise to help me cope with Chronic Migraine and because it helps me feel better!
Nowadays, I go twice a week to the gym, once to Pilates and out for walks when I can. Rather than seeing exercise as a ‘should’ or something to be ticked off the to do list for the day, I see it as a privilege to be able to get out and move my body, and a treat I give myself.
Here are my top 4 reasons why exercise might be doing you the world of good and could help with your migraine:
1. The drug cabinet in your brain
Exercise can actually help reduce your pain, and give your brain a boost from the natural ‘drug cabinet’ of the brain. When we exercise we encourage production and release of wonder drugs like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and even brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This last one isn’t a drug (none of them are if we’re getting technical!) but it’s a growth protein that helps create new brain connections! We can help change our brains for the better by exercising. Amazing.
2. Mood boosting effects of exercise
It is now widely recognised that exercise is an excellent first line of defence against depression and anxiety. Regular aerobic exercise can decrease depressive episodes and can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Honestly, these days this is my key reason for moving! I have a history of depression & anxiety, and getting active has played a big role in managing symptoms.
3. More energy for daily life
When we workout we stress our system slightly and it adapts to be able to cope better (yes, this is a very simplified explanation!). These adaptations include boosting the number of energy producing cells in our muscles, which actually means we can increase our energy levels long term. As an added bonus, exercise can help you sleep better too, so it’s a fatigue busting double-whammy. Of course, if you are suffering with prolonged fatigue you will want to pace up slowly, but generally for those of us managing migraine it can give us a real boost to keep on keeping on.
4. Long term health
Exercise decreases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease (heart attack & stroke), decreases your risk of many cancers, decreases your risk of developing diabetes and generally decreases your risk of many of the common comorbidites with Migraine (other conditions that Migraineurs often suffer with). If there are three things everyone can do to invest in their health long term it has to be to sleep well, eat a decent diet, and move regularly.
Did you notice what I didn’t include on this list? I didn’t mention the studies we have linking aerobic exercise to migraine improvement. Why? Firstly, because these are only a few small studies so the evidence isn’t as robust as it is for the other conditions I have mentioned. Second, the participants in these studies had frequent episodic migraine not chronic migraine, so for my current situation it might not apply. Thirdly, because I want to embrace an active lifestyle as a sustainable long term way of living! I’m not solely moving my body to help with my Migraine, and I don’t want to focus on that. These other benefits will continue to be relevant even when I am out of this current chronic phase of my migraine journey, well into old age.
There is no one approach to exercise that will work for everyone, you need to think about what you enjoy doing, what your limitations are, what your goals are, and what would be best for your health. Also, always chat to your Dr before commencing a new exercise routine. I’ve included a list of links below for you to read if you want to know more about the science behind the things I’ve mentioned.
Hopefully these facts can help give you the little boost you need to get over the hurdle of just doing something, even if it’s simple joint mobility exercise or stretching. Move when you can, in a way that feels good, and remember that some is better than none!