The debilitating nature of migraine headaches prevents many sufferers from taking part in sport and exercise. However, a Norwegian study of 20,000 participants showed that inactive people have a higher risk of developing frequent headaches. Being overweight can also increase the likelihood of attacks.
“It’s a question of balance when it comes to migraine sufferers and exercise,” says Donna Walsh, information officer with the Migraine Association of Ireland [MAI]. “While an inactive lifestyle can be a problem, over-exertion can trigger attacks. However, exercise should be an important part of everyone’s lifestyle.”
Migraine is thought to be caused by chemical reactions in the brain and the central nervous system. However, it can be triggered in those already susceptible to the condition by a number of factors – many of which are present during exercise.
Overheating and dehydration are commonly cited migraine triggers. These may be hard to avoid during sporting activities so the MAI advises all players to ensure that they take in adequate fluids while exercising.
Certain high-energy foods such as chocolate, citrus fruits, and drinks containing caffeine can trigger migraine in some sufferers. Again, if these are triggers for the individual migraineur, they should be swapped for water. Low blood sugar levels can also be implicated in attacks.
Over-exercise can also set off a migraine so all sufferers should get to know their limits and take a break when necessary.
Environmental factors such as humidity, high winds, and sun-glare are often implied as migraine triggers. For the sports person who spends time exercising outdoors, these triggers are often avoidable. However, the first step is to discover your triggers before you go about avoiding them.