Can Exercise Help Prevent Migraines?

We all know exercise is good for you. It keeps internal organs functioning; it keeps the body healthy; it builds the immune system—the list is seemingly endless. But can we confidently add “helps to prevent migraines” to the numerous benefits that regular activity offers?

The short answer is yes; a carefully executed workout routine can naturally help to reduce the severity and frequency of chronic headaches and migraines.

While a small percentage of individuals experience issues with exercise-induced migraines, there has been extensive research proving that regular light to moderate cardio activity actually works to decrease the frequency and severity of chronic migraines in most cases. This is due to the variety of chemicals that are released throughout the body during exercise; these chemicals include endorphins (which help with pain control) and enkephalins (chemicals that naturally fight depression).

In one particular study, Swedish researchers observed three separate groups of chronic migraine sufferers. One group was assigned a moderate exercise routine; another was provided with topiramate (a drug specifically created to help with migraines); and the third was given a relaxing exercise routine. At the conclusion of the nine-month study, it was discovered that nearly all of the participants in each of the three groups had experienced fewer and less severe attacks than before. None of the groups showed signs of higher improvement than another, establishing that regular activity is a viable option for those who wish to avoid taking medication.

Start Off Slow

It’s important to note that in some instances exercise can actually be a trigger for migraines, so in order to make sure that exercise helps your migraine, we recommend the following general guidelines:

  • Start off slow. While it might be tempting to jump on a stationary bike and go, engaging in high-intensity activity right off the bat can cause more harm than good. Warming up should be an essential part of every workout, especially for those who experience frequent migraines.
  • Stay hydrated.  A lack of water (especially when exercising) can cause severe headaches for even those who don’t get frequent migraines. So drinking up and staying hydrated is a crucial step in prevention.
  • Understand your triggers. For some, it’s light; for others, it’s certain foods. The factors that spark a migraine inevitably vary from person to person. However, it’s important to know what your trigger is. Being aware of circumstances or situations that could potentially lead to an attack allows you more control in preventing its onset. For example, if you know that sunlight or dehydration cause you to develop a migraine, avoid exercising outside (and consume plenty of water).

The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.