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How Exercise Can Help Prevent Migraines

A new study suggests that regular exercise–around half an hour a day–could help prevent migraines. Activity reduces stress and insomnia.
How Exercise Can Help Prevent Migraines
African american businesswoman feeling unwell suffering from headache migraine touching forehead at team meeting, upset black woman employee frustrated by business problem or work stress, head shot

Migraine headaches are often debilitating. There are now a number of new, effective but pricey medications to prevent migraines. They include Aimovig (erenumab), Ajovy (fremanezumab), Emgality (galcanezumab) and Vyepti (eptinezumab). However, a study to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting offers another option.

Using Exercise to Help Prevent Migraines:

The authors report that regular exercise can reduce both the intensity and frequency of some migraines (American Academy of Neurology, 73rd Annual Meeting, April 17-22, 2021). The researchers recruited over 4,600 migraineurs and tracked their headache frequency. About three-quarters of them reported migraines at least 15 days a month. The volunteers also reported on their exercise, termed moderate to vigorous physical activity. What qualified? Very brisk walking, running, jogging, playing a sport, riding a bicycle, or even heavy cleaning. In addition, the investigators asked about migraine triggers such as insomnia, anxiety, stress or depression.

The scientists classified the participants into five different exercise categories. There were some people who did not exercise at all. At the other end of the spectrum were people who exercise at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) a week. 

Who Was Able to Prevent Migraines?

People who exercised the least were more likely to have chronic headaches. Those who exercised at least 2.5 hours per week reported less depression, insomnia and anxiety. In addition, it seems that their activity helped to prevent migraines. Just 5% of the people who got little or no exercise had few headaches each month. Approximately 48% of them reported 25 or more headaches in a month. In contrast, 10% of the exercisers had only a few headaches each month, and about 28% suffered frequent headaches.

This study was not able to measure the possibility that frequent migraines might keep migraineurs from doing vigorous activity. Nonetheless, the lead author, Dr. Mason Dyess, suggests that they consider this as an option to prevent migraines.

He commented:

“There are new therapeutics available for migraine, but they are very expensive. People with migraine should consider incorporating more exercise into their daily life because it may be a safe and low-cost way to manage and minimize some of the other problems that often accompany migraine.”

Learn More:

You may be interested in the information in our eGuide to Headaches and Migraines.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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