There are a whole bunch of great things that happen during a stellar workout: your mood increases, for one. Your sweat-stained tee is a badge of honor of sorts. And if you do it time and time again, results are a pretty great by-product, too. But the last thing you want to deal with during an intense session? A migraine.
Commonly compared to a headache, migraines are severe, throbbing head pain on one or both sides of the head. Often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme light sensitivity, it’s not exactly a fitness fiend’s best friend.
If you’re prone to migraines and like exercise, you could be in an interesting predicament, says Lawrence Newman, MD, director of headache and professor of neurology at NYU Langone Health.
“Exercise is kind of a double-edged sword,” says Newman. “Generally speaking, we want patients with migraines to do things to calm their brain down. And to do that, you have to establish regularity. Regular meal times, regular sleep, and of course—regular exercise.”
Although the meat and potatoes of whatyour exercise routine entails may vary from your friends’, doctors typically suggest frequent migraine sufferers get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three days a week. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity every week with two days of muscle-strengthening). Science showsthat a regular aerobic exercise routine can both reduce frequency and intensity of migraines over time.
“I say double-edged, though, because exercise has been shown to reduce and sometimes bring on headaches,” Newman continues. “It’s certainly a case-by-case basis sort of thing.”
Thinking of powering through your next workout, migraine in tow? Here’s what you need to know:
Everyone is different
Like Newman says, for some, exercise can actually precipitate an attack. You may feel fine walking into the gym and then the rush of blood and endorphins brings on new feelings throughout your body (and subsequently, your head). Listen to your body. If your vision is blurry or you’re feeling nauseous, those are important indicators that you need to take a step away from the squat rack.
Hydration is important
Being properly hydrated is essential for working out, and not just because your body is losing water in the process. If you’re dehydrated, your sweat rate dramatically decreases, which means that your body’s ability to thermoregulate also decreases significantly.
Overheating can definitely trigger migraines, so be extra cautious about your fluid intake on a regular basis. The CDC suggests suggests men drink an average of approximately 3.7 liters (125 ounces) daily, and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that you drink about 500 ml of fluid—which is roughly 17 ounces—two hours before exercise.
“Eating an hour and a half before your workout is ideal,” says Newman. “People that go into a workout fasting with low blood sugar, they’re more likely to develop an intense headache.”
Remember: We’re not talking a huge dinner, here. Think something light that’s going to give your body the fuel it needs to get through the effort (such as half of a bagel with peanut butter, two hard boiled eggs and a piece of toast, or yogurt with granola), and not weigh you down mid-treadmill stride.
Find relief at the drugstore
There’s nothing wrong with being cautious. Newman suggests taking Aleve or another anti-inflammatory medication about an hour before exercise to prevent and stave off migraines.