When faced with a chronic condition like migraines, most people ask the question, “What can I do to help myself besides taking prescribed medication?” Intuitively, we seem to understand that while medications might be helpful and necessary, there is much we can do in the way we live to promote health and well-being. If you struggle with migraines, consider these don’ts and do’s based on current research:
Don’t be sedentary. Do engage in moderate, regular exercise.
Several studies based on large populations show that when people don’t exercise regularly, the frequency of migraines increases. Even though exercise itself can sometimes be a trigger for some people, research advocates both aerobic and strength training, and for some, exercise during the prodromal period (the 24-hour period preceding a migraine when a person begins to have mild symptoms) can actually keep a migraine at bay. Physical activity can reduce migraine intensity and duration as well as frequency. Exercising 2-3 times per week is considered positive for people with migraines, particularly as this treatment helps other related conditions, like obesity and depression, and it costs very little to get started.
Don’t disregard what your body is saying. Do pay attention to what triggers migraines and make lifestyle changes.
Understanding what triggers your migraine is essential, and part of figuring this out can include keeping a record of what you did and what you ate or drank during the 24 hours before a migraine strikes. Once you have the information, though, you must act on it by making lifestyle changes. This can be not skipping meals, or it can be avoiding certain foods or situations that trigger your migraine. One study’s results showed that participants were better equipped to manage their migraines by focusing on eating well and at regular intervals, along with avoiding triggering foods.
Don’t disregard the importance of focused relaxation. Do incorporate relaxation exercises 2 times per day, especially to enhance sleep at night.
Since stress and disrupted sleep are known triggers for migraines, addressing them by using relaxation exercises should reduce migraines. Progressive muscle relaxation techniques, similar to a body scan, were used daily for 2 sessions of 20 minutes each by participants in one study which looked at the importance of self-care in reducing migraines. In this study, 75 percent of participants did relaxation exercises morning and night. The results confirmed the hypothesis that morning relaxation work could generate more energy and a positive outlook for the day and evening relaxation exercises enhance sleep. A survey of studies from 2001-2009 where participants used relaxation techniques showed “that relaxation significantly reduced stress, improved sleep, [and] improved the mood of people suffering from migraine.”
Having migraines does not render you helpless. Consider these do’s and don’ts to see if they make sense, and talk to your doctor if you have questions about how to move forward in your wellness journey. Doctorpedia is pleased to support patients by providing short videos from expert doctors and well-researched articles. Our hope is that you will use this information to engage in meaningful dialogue with your doctor. Doctorpedia is doctor-led but patient-friendly!
- Amin, F.M., Aristeidou, S., Baraldi, C., Czapinska-Ciepiela, E.K., Ariadni, D.D., Di Lenola, D., …& European Headache Federation School of Advanced Studies (EHF-SAS). (2018). The association between migraine and physical exercise. Journal of Headache Pain 19(1), 83. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6134860/
- Krøll, L.S., Hammarlund, C.S., Westergaard, M.L., Nielsen, T., Sloth, L.B., Jensen, R.H., & Gard, G. (2017). Level of physical activity, well-being, stress and self-rated health in persons with migraine and co-existing tension-type headache and neck pain. Journal of Headache Pain 18(1), 46. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5395520/
- Mahmoudzadeh-Zarandi, F., Hamedanizadeh, F., Ebadi, A., & Raiesifar, A. (2016).The effectiveness of Orem’s self-care program on headache-related disability in migraine patients. Iran Journal of Neurology 15(4), 240-247. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5392201/
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.