top of page

How can exercise prevent migraines?

We know exercise is beneficial for many things, and research now shows it also helps prevent migraines, including those that cause dizziness, vertigo and imbalance, known as vestibular migraines.

A woman smiles as she rides bike on a mountain trail. Migraine treatment plans often include exercise like bike riding.
Walking, swimming and bike rides are great ways to get exercise and reduce migraine risk.

When we exercise, our body releases chemicals that control pain and regulate inflammation pathways in the brain. This process is very effective at helping the body maintain homeostasis and reducing the likelihood of a vestibular migraine.

As a vestibular physical therapist, I treat many clients with vestibular migraines, and I also get vestibular migraines myself. I know first-hand how miserable it can be to deal with the dizziness, vertigo, nausea, brain fog, head pain and other symptoms that migraines can cause. So when I see research that shows ways to prevent vestibular migraines, I’m all about it!

Migraine treatment plan

The tricky thing about vestibular migraines is the body may need to be gently introduced to a new activity to avoid triggering an episode. I help my clients determine a gentle way to start getting regular exercise, then we gradually tweak their exercise program until it’s at a great intensity for maintenance. The program might include:

  • Walking

  • Bike rides

  • Swimming

  • Yoga

  • Pilates

  • Tai chi

  • Resistance training

Exercise is especially important when your vestibular migraine bucket starts to get full. If your triggers are stacking up — stress, lack of sleep, weather changes, hormones, etc. — you can bring the trigger level down and prevent a migraine by going for a walk or doing some yoga poses or whatever your preferred method of gentle exercise may be. You may also need to use other migraine management tools like supplements, medication, relaxation techniques and rest, but exercise can be a strong, foundational piece of your overall strategy.

Three women perform warrior I yoga pose
Yoga is one of many great exercise options for migraine sufferers. It calms the nervous system, builds postural strength and improves balance.

Exercise and stress

Cardio and strength training have a side benefit: They reduce stress! And since stress is a common vestibular migraine trigger, you get a two-for-one self-defense weapon against migraines by moving your body regularly (really it’s more than two if you count all the other ways exercise helps us feel better and stay healthy).

Strengthening the vestibular system

You also might need vestibular therapy to tolerate movement better. Even the subtle bounce of the body while walking or the side-to-side movement of the head to look for cars while riding a bike can be enough to make someone dizzy if their vestibular system isn’t working properly. Migraines are notorious for their ability to irritate this system.

Fortunately, vestibular therapy is very effective at addressing this. It helps the body integrate the use of the vestibular (inner ear balance) system, as well as the vestibular-ocular reflex (which keeps our vision steady when we move). These specialized exercises can be done while you’re working on other aspects of your migraine-reduction plan, like sleep hygiene, stress management, staying hydrated, avoiding food triggers, and getting cardio and resistance exercise.

Vestibular migraines can be effectively treated and prevented with a comprehensive approach, and a guided exercise plan is often an important part of it.

If you’d like to learn more about how to manage vestibular migraines, call or text us at 732-691-4681 or email us at for your free dizzy analysis!

bottom of page