Many people have asked me to post my thoughts on migraines and exercise. It feels like second nature now, but I had to learn the following from trial and error.
1. Control water intake. When you exercise, your body’s water is used up quickly to cool you down as sweat. Much of our H2O intake comes from our diet, but we are also using up water to break food down. So if you think about it, the best way to prevent dehydration (and thus prevent a headache) is to keep the tank somewhat full. That’s why if I am planning to run, bike or climb later, I make sure to drink throughout the day, during the RBC and after. You don’t have to guzzle down gallons, but if you listen to your body you will understand what the beginning of dehydration feels like – then you can gauge how much will give you the best chance of avoiding a headache. I say this because for me, the stress of running on a full bladder sort of negates the benefits of running. So find the right balance!
2. Eat regularly. Often, the only time we can RBC is right after work. In the past, I have tried to delay dinner or run on a full stomach. Through trial and error, I now know what works best for me – now on those days, I bring a brown bag dinner.
3. Take your meds. If you have rescue medication and feel the beginning of a headache, take the medicine! It is true that exercise helps reduce headaches, but not if they’re already present. Because some migraine meds have bad side effects, I have tried to avoid them in the past, thinking I could stop the headache with exercise. What I have found is that an untreated migraine will go away during a workout, then come right back after.
4. Make it routine. I workout for stress relief, so I try to do it often – usually about 3 times per week. If this means I don’t run or bike as far as I would like, so be it. Also, I find that max stress relief occurs if I RBC on a day where I’m not rushing around. If I squeeze a workout into an already packed schedule, I am taking away somewhere else, and that’s usually in sleep. This is a no-no.
Most importantly: have fun! Think about it – if you’re sick in bed, you’re losing that time anyway, so why not spend it doing something awesome instead?