While intense exercise may trigger migraine, science suggests that moderate exercise can reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.
Migraine attacks are often debilitating. They can knock you off track for hours, even days.
While genetic and environmental factors can cause migraine, sleeplessness, stress, and exercise are among the factors that can trigger them.
If you feel exercise has activated a migraine episode in the past, it’s natural to think about avoiding it. But research suggests that moderate, regular exercise helps over time.
So if you experience migraine and are looking for natural, preventive treatment, the question may not be, “To exercise or not to exercise?” but “What kind of exercise is best?”
Doctors often recommend preventive drugs to patients with frequent, unrelenting migraine episodes. Moderate exercise might be a good accompaniment.
Evidence suggests that moderate, regular exercise can reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, according to this
And according to a
Of 136 participants who gave up prescription drugs, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco and began exercising regularly, 95 went from having 15 or more migraine episodes per month to fewer than 8 per month.
Additionally, moderate exercise can improve health conditions that frequently go along with having migraine.
- increasing the efficiency of oxygen inhaled, thus reducing risk for cardiovascular problems
- reducing depression, anxiety, stress, and sleeplessness — known migraine triggers
- improving self-esteem, making migraine management easier
- increasing tolerance for migraine triggers over time
Aerobic and fat-burning exercise, done moderately and regularly, seem particularly good for decreasing anti-inflammatory markers in the brain.
Yoga and strength training, also done often and not too intensely, seem to lessen the frequency of migraine.
More research with larger populations and uniform standards of measuring pain is needed to confirm reports that moderate exercise can reduce pain levels and duration of migraine episodes.
Is it possible to really work up a sweat during a migraine?
Steadily working up a sweat during regular exercise sessions might prevent frequent migraine attacks.
But high-intensity workouts (HIIT) aren’t necessarily your go-to if you have migraine because they can trigger headaches, naturally discouraging future exercise.
You may wish to avoid strenuous sports like boot camps, tennis, or isometric exercises that cause you to speed up quickly because these also may be triggering.
However, two case studies cited in the
But more research is needed to recommend working up a sweat to stop a migraine attack.
Here are some factors that might help you when considering what’s “moderate exercise”:
- getting your activity level to a pace where you can keep a conversation without becoming breathless
- getting about 30 minutes of cardio or 50 minutes or longer of lower intensity exercise
- exercising two to three times per week
- exercising without intense pain or injury
Sticking with a moderate exercise routine can build a higher threshold response to migraine triggers.
It’s best to warm up and cool down. Running for about 30 minutes is sound.
Precautions may include:
- checking your blood pressure
- consulting with your doctor if attacks worsen
- avoiding high altitudes or extreme heat
This can benefit your physical health and boost your mood. Try aiming for the following:
- 10 minutes warming up
- 40–45 minutes brisk walking
- 5 minutes cooling down
Consider the following moderate cycling workout to reduce migraine frequency:
- 15 minutes warming up
- 20 minutes cycling
- 5 minutes cooling down
A randomized control trial of 72 migraine-without-aura patients, cited in this
A 50-minute or longer session might be needed for full benefits.
A sedentary lifestyle is associated with more frequent migraine episodes.
If you have the following types of migraine or conditions, you may wish to consult your healthcare team before exercising:
- nerve pain
- primary exertional headache, due to exercising in heat and high altitudes
- high blood pressure
While breathless exercise may not best serve those with migraine, moderate, regular exercise seems to have mental and physical health benefits. It can reduce the frequency of your migraine attacks. It’s inexpensive, accessible, and natural.
If you live with migraine, jogging, cycling, walking, or yoga may work well as part of your treatment plan.