Regular exercise is a natural way to reduce headache severity and frequency. Movement is such a powerful tool for migraine that it’s been shown to be just as effective as medications. Yet living with migraine can make movement and exercise complicated, because:
- Exercise can push the sensitive migraine brain into an attack.
- Many people with migraine have limited energy and feel they can’t afford to “spend” it on exercise.
- Both situations often lead to anxiety around exercise, which further inhibits movement.
If any of that describes you, you’re far from alone. Up to 78% of people living with migraine avoid exercise. Unfortunately, studies show that lack of movement leads to more frequent migraine attacks. But when you’re developing an exercise routine for migraine that helps, not hurts, it can be hard to know where to begin.
We’ve done the hard work for you. The Ctrl M Health app lays out a comprehensive movement program that includes four migraine-friendly strategies for exercise so you can make meaningful changes for your migraine.
#1 Get body awareness
Your movement journey for migraine begins slowly and carefully, because the migraine brain is wary of change. Sudden shifts to its environment can cause it to perceive a threat and respond with a migraine attack. That can include jolts like ramping up your workout too quickly, without a warm-up to help your body acclimate; or persistent soreness caused by poor body mechanics. Unless you learn to pay attention to your body’s signals through body awareness, it’s easy to miss the warning signs — until the migraine attack comes.
Body awareness activities are a form of risk management. When you’re in tune with your body and confident in your movements, you can safely protect against the shocks that can make the migraine brain overreact to exercise.
Try our “Posture Assessment” activity:
- Stand or sit in a chair, whichever is most comfortable for you.
- Watch our video. It will walk you through assessing the positioning of your head, jaw, shoulders and pelvis.
- Adjust your body posture as needed. These shifts should make an immediate difference in the way your body feels at rest. Sustained over time, good posture will make your movements safer and more efficient, and will prevent unwanted tension.
#2 Get strong
Now that you’re tuned into your body, you’re ready to start training it to move in smooth, efficient patterns, known as functional strength training. Have you ever felt a shockwave run to your head when you sat down too quickly? Felt your back spasm while shoveling snow? Functional strength is your ticket to avoiding such stresses to the migraine brain.
Functional strength training is a type of resistance training using your own body weight, including squats, rotations, push-ups, and planks. You likely engage in many of these movements on a daily basis. For example, a squat is how you sit down and stand up from a chair; a deadlift is how you pick up a laundry basket from the floor. The stronger and more efficient your body is while performing life tasks, the less likely you are to carry unwanted tension and jolt yourself in ways that spark a migraine attack.
Try our “Learn Basic Movement Patterns: Squat” activity:
- Stand on a level floor. If you need support, have a chair nearby.
- Watch our squat video. When prompted, practice a few repetitions to internalize the form cues.
- Repeat this activity over time to build strength and muscle memory. Once you feel comfortable with your form, try doing a set on a regular basis. This could include adding squats to a movement session or incorporating them into a larger functional strength workout like our Build Strength activity.
#3 Get moving
Now that you’ve built strong functional movement patterns, it’s time to add another form of structured movement — the classic idea of “exercise.” One option is aerobic movement, in which you quicken your heart rate and breathing pattern. Cycling and jogging are the most commonly studied exercises in migraine research, but any activity that increases your heart rate will benefit your migraine, so choose one you enjoy. Then start small. Remember, your brain doesn’t like sudden shifts in its routine, so the idea is to make changes that aren’t too far outside of your brain’s comfort zone, then build gradually from there.
Another form of structured activity that’s good for migraine is complementary movement, which emphasizes the mind-body connection and quiets the nervous system. Practices like yoga, tai chi, and qigong emphasize low impact, breath, balance, and stretching, making them ideal for addressing migraine.
Try our “Beginner Yoga” activity:
- Sit comfortably on a yoga mat or carpeted floor. This activity consists entirely of sitting and lying postures.
- Watch our instructional Beginner Yoga video and follow along. Modify any movements for your ability level right now; you should feel stretching sensations, not strain.
- Schedule a consistent time to practice 2 to 3 times this week.
- Practice this activity for at least 3 weeks for optimal results.
- To develop your strength and range of motion, start to sustain the postures for longer periods of time.
#4 Get stacked
Now it’s time to finally put the pieces together to create a structured movement plan that’s right for you — one that gives your migraine brain the consistency it craves, yet also leaves room for you to gradually advance as your capability grows. General exercise recommendations, which migraine research have also proven beneficial, are 3-5 workouts per week, 30-60 minutes each, for a target total of about 150 minutes per week. Whatever your weekly goal, you’re more likely to get there with the movement plan of your choice.
Creating a movement routine involves choosing activities you enjoy and stacking them together. Your ideal stacked routine incorporates elements from multiple movement strategies, putting them in a certain order — warm-up, aerobic or complementary exercise, functional strength, and a cool-down — that caters to the preferences of your migraine brain.
Try our “Stacked Movement Routine” activity:
- Watch our stacked movement routine video and follow along.
- The video will walk you through how to draw from multiple movement strategies to put together a movement routine that works for you. It demonstrates both a beginner and more advanced level routine.
- Pause the video at any point if you need more time for transition, completion, or rest. If you feel confident and comfortable with your fitness level, you can always repeat the video for a second circuit.
- Repeat this activity at least 2 times this week.
Choose Your Next Step to Improve Your Migraine
You have the power to reduce migraine, starting with building a consistent movement routine. The personalized plan within your Ctrl M Health app is ready to help. You’ve got this!
Good luck! We’ll be with you every step of the way.