Most of us have experienced the occasional headache. Whether caused by a long day of work, stress, dehydration or a lack of sleep, headaches are common and often treatable with over-the-counter medication and rest. For some, however, headaches can be an ongoing issue, with the pain becoming debilitating. 

One such example is migraines, a neurological disorder that can cause severe pain, as well as other symptoms such as visual changes, sensitivity and nausea. At present, there is no known cure for migraine but there are ways to manage the pain and reduce severity. One of the most effective and least invasive methods is through exercise.

What Are Migraines?
Migraine is a neurological condition that affects one in seven Australians. A migraine attack can typically last between 4 and 72 hours, depending on the severity of the headache, the individual and their treatment. Symptoms of migraine can range from mild to severe and include: throbbing pain that is usually on one side of the head; nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. Migraines can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, stress, hormones, diet and lifestyle factors.

What Are the Benefits of Exercise for Migraine sufferers?
Exercise can offer several benefits for migraine sufferers. Studies have shown that regular exercise:

• Increases endorphins or “feel-good” hormones. This can reduce stress and tension, helping to prevent and relieve the pain caused by migraine.

• Increases blood circulation which can bring essential nutrients to the brain and carry away waste products.

• Reduces inflammation, which can help ease migraine-related pain.

• Improves sleep, which is essential for reducing migraine-related pain.

• Stimulates the release of hormones to modulate pain.

• Boosts overall energy, which can help manage fatigue associated with migraine.

• Enhances the body’s ability to deal with stress, which can reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks.

Which Types of Exercise Are Most Beneficial for Migraines?
The type of exercise you choose for migraine relief should depend on your physical condition, activity level and personal preferences. Here are some types of exercise that may be beneficial for migraines, but always speak to your doctor before starting any new exercise program:

• Aerobic Exercise: Aerobic activities such as walking, running, jogging, biking, swimming and even dancing can help reduce stress, boost mood and improve your overall physical health.

• Strength Training: Weight or resistance training can help build muscle strength, improve balance and posture and increase energy levels.

• Yoga and Tai Chi: These low-impact activities are great for improving flexibility and balance, as well as reducing stress and tension.

• Relaxation Exercises: Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness can help relax your body and relieve tension.

How Often Should You Exercise to Reduce Migraines?
The length and intensity of your workouts should be tailored to your needs to reduce migraine intensity and frequency. Generally, it is recommended that adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. This can be split up into 5-10 minute sessions if needed. Strength training and flexibility exercises are also important; aim for 2-3 sessions per week.

It is also important to listen to your body and always rest when feeling fatigued. Make sure to drink plenty of water, especially when exercising in hot weather, and refuel with nutritious foods before and after exercise.

Tips for Starting an Exercise Program for Migraines
• Speak to your doctor before starting any exercise program. They can help you choose the right type of exercise, intensity and length of workouts to suit your individual needs.

• Start slowly. Even a light walk around the block or working in the garden can make a difference.

• Make exercise enjoyable. Find activities that are fun so you are more likely to stick with it. Try to exercise with a friend or join an exercise class.

• Schedule your exercise sessions. Adding exercise to your daily routine can help you make it a habit.

• Give yourself a break. If you don’t feel up to your workout, take a rest.

Exercise has been shown to be a useful tool in the management of migraine. Regular physical activity can help reduce stress, improve energy levels and modulate pain. As exercise is a key component in managing migraine, it is important to find an exercise program that works for you. Speak to your doctor and find activities that you enjoy to help reduce the intensity and frequency of migraine attacks. With the right approach, exercise can be an effective tool in improving your health and managing migraine.

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