Study: Control Migraine Pain with Cardio Exercise


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  46 comments   :  21,076 Views

Exercise has long been touted for helping us overcome such health issues as obesity, heart disease, type II diabetes, even some forms of depression. But according to a pilot study published earlier this year in the International Journal of Sports Medicine there is evidence that supports that aerobic exercise may be a treatment option for migraine suffers.

Because very few studies exist regarding the effects exercise has on migraine suffers, the basis for this study was not so much to determine the benefits of exercise, as much as it was to develop a training program for those who suffer from migraines.

The study group was quite small. It consisted of 16 migraine suffers--8 who did not participate in an exercise program and 8 who participated in a 10 week, three times per week running program. At the end of the study, the results were quite promising.

The data showed a 40 percent drop in the number of days the exercise group reported experiencing migraines compared to control group which saw little change. When it came to the intensity of the migraine, the exercise group experienced a 43 percent drop in the migraine intensity, whereas the control group showed little or no significant change.

It is believe that a reduction in the stress hormone in the exercise group may be responsible for the outcome of this study. While more studies need to be conducted, there is promise for those, like myself who have suffered a life-time from migraines.

Prior to taking up running, I was easily a monthly migraine sufferer. While I never experienced them to degree that many of my friends do, I was one who was fortunate enough to experience an aura prior to the onset of the attack. The minute I experienced the 'stars' or tunnel vision, I knew I had only a short time to take a couple of Aleve, drink a huge Diet Coke and get myself into a quiet, dark room. I must say I do not miss the paralyzing effects these attacks had on my body. I would literally be groggy for days after an attack.

The irony when I was reading about this study is that since I took up running 5 ½ years ago, I have only experienced one migraine which was three years ago. The reason I remember the date is this attack was so unlike the others I had experienced in the past that I thought I was having a stroke. I went to the Emergency Department and was admitted to rule out a stroke. After a non-conclusive CT Scan and MRI I was released. I remember the last thing I asked the doctor was if I could run my half-marathon which was only two weeks away, which he gladly told me I could.

I actually attributed my lack of migraine attacks to my weight loss and new healthy living, but never imagined that my running may be doing more for me than just keeping my weight down and my cardio-respiratory system strong and healthy, running may actually be keeping the pain in my brain away.

Just remember if you are a migraine suffer, make sure you ask your doctor or neurologist if beginning an exercise program is suitable for you and your situation.

Do you suffer from migraines? If so do you currently exercise? Did you see a reduction in the number of attacks or the intensity of them?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
See More: health issues, exercise,
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
NEXT ENTRY >   Chef Meg's Easiest Recipes


  • 46
    I used to have migraines a few times a year in my teens. But at 22 I started having them 4 times a week and before I knew it I was having them everyday.I'm now 24 years old and I've always been on and off with eating healthy and exercising since high school. I've tried various drugs from my neurologist and tried botox. He told me to start exercising, eating well, going to work and living my life even though I'm in pain. I don't agree with him to exercise or go to work while "in pain". But I did change what I eat and I strive to work out 30-50 minutes for 4 days a week. This past week I barely had a migraine for the past three days or they were less intense. It will be a while before I get to my goal weight but I will continue to update my progress or downfalls on my sparkspage. If I find this page again I'll make sure to update here as well. - 6/12/2013   3:17:54 PM
    That's really interesting. I think it is a good concept, and it may work for some people, but I still suffer from migraines. I usually get one to two per month, with at least one of those bad enough that the only way to get rid of it is to take my Imitrex and sleep it off. I wish I could say that I was one of them that is helped by exercise, but I can't. I'm glad someone found a non-drug way to help some migraine sufferers! Just because I'm not one of them doesn't mean I'm going to stop working out! - 9/20/2011   11:10:50 PM
  • 44
    Interesting! My migraines have decreased since I have started into menopause but I have been exercising more and that could be some of it. I have had more recently and due to outside factors have been exercising less. Definitely food for thought! - 9/20/2011   12:35:33 AM
  • 43
    I used to get severe migraines when I was younger. Now, I only get one or two a year. I always that that going through menopause may've had an effect, but I've also changed my diet, lost weight, and started exercising. It's hard to say if any or all of these factors keep the migraines away. By eating healthier, I stay away from a lot of the "trigger" foods. - 9/14/2011   1:26:55 AM
    I have suffered with migraines since the age of ten. I have been getting them almost daily for over 10 years (I am 31 now). I have tried several different drug combos over the years but recently I changed my diet and I eat no processed foods. I keep the same sleeping routine. I get regular cardio excercise (30 min. on the elliptical or walk/jog 2 miles 3 to 4 x's a week). This is the first time I have noticed any real progress in my migraine symptoms. I am really excited about it since this has been such a lifelong struggle for me.

    I believe that everyone is different when it comes to migraines. Changing one component may not make a huge difference for everyone but when you put diet, exercise, schedule and medication together, for someone like me with severe migraines it really made a huge difference in my quality of life. If I took away just one of those components I believe I would be back at square one. It took me a long time to figure this out but if this info can help even one person with these awful migraines it is so worth it to me to share it. - 9/11/2011   12:48:54 PM
    I haven't had any full-blown migraines in a long time. I put it down to hormonal changes, but maybe exercise had something to do with it as well. Interesting idea! - 9/11/2011   9:16:41 AM
  • 40
    Hi I don't think I have migraines but I have powerful and painful headaches usually on the right side of my head. I will try this excercise routine to see if it helps. I really don't excercise much right now. - 9/9/2011   7:37:03 PM
    Before I lost 80 pounds (6 years ago) I was twice a month Migraine sufferer. Nowadays I get maybe 1 or 2 a year ! I had attributed that to the weight loss, but now I think maybe it was (is) all the exercise I do (about 500 minutes each week) - 9/8/2011   11:47:07 AM
  • 38
    I am living proof of this. I started Spark for weight loss mainly but benefited more greatly in other ways even more! I have been migraine free for over one year...was able to get off of rx meds for migraine (and do not have high cholesterol anymore as well). I attribute it directly to running and more exercise and eating more fruits and veggies, eating better in general. For me this is the best I have felt in years! - 9/8/2011   9:34:30 AM
  • 37
    Thank you for this information. This never occurred to me. I am very motivated to increase my exercise now! - 9/7/2011   11:54:58 PM
    I have suffered with migraines on and off for most of my adult life. Recently, I have not had any but I never made the connection to my consistent exercising and my lack of migraines lately. It makes sense since exercise reduces stress, which is my major trigger since going through menopause and losing the hormone connection to my migraines. Very interesting blog. Definitely something to think about. Thanks! - 9/7/2011   11:21:57 PM
    I have a friend who suffers migraines quite frequently and I had heard that exercise could help. I shared this with her and she rejected me, like I was making it up! Maybe if I show her this article she will believe me. - 9/7/2011   9:25:20 PM
  • 34
    I started an intense weight-training program almost 15 years ago and actually caused my migraines to start. I think I'll be concentrating more on moderate-intensity and see if it keeps my migraines under control as they have been for 10 years. - 9/7/2011   8:22:32 PM
  • SHAN09
    I have been a migraine sufferer since I was in my teens - mostly stress, weather and hormone induced. For the past 18 years I have been taking Evening Primrose Oil regularly (when I and have had a great reduction in both the occurrence and severity of my migraines. In the past 4 years I have gone through some of the most stressful situations anyone should have to bare, but have started to exercise a little more regularly as well as get involved with Reiki which has reduced them even further. :) - 9/7/2011   5:10:29 PM
  • 32
    I find that exercising at a moderate pace helps with the frequency of my migraines. However, if I exercise at an intense pace (e.g.- spin class), about 6 hours later I get a migraine. I run with my HRM and make sure that I do not go over 170 bpm for an exteneded period of time. I have also started taking the herb feverfew as recommended by Dr. Oz. I have only been taking it 3 weeks so it is too soon to tell if it will help. Hoping we all stay migraine and headache free! - 9/7/2011   5:07:40 PM
  • 31
    I have been a migraine sufferer ALL my life. Fit and non fit. Exercise has never made a substantial difference to me. However one thing I DID notice that helped a lot, was eliminating ALL processed foods. I did a 6 month experiment on that, with my own body and holy cow, migraine were next to nil. - 9/7/2011   3:28:16 PM
  • 30
    Interesting, but since I joined the fitness club and started a regular fitness routine here with Spark, I have not seen a difference in my migraines. Good article, however. - 9/7/2011   12:08:24 PM
  • 29
    So glad we averted that scare during HTC! - 9/7/2011   11:46:09 AM
    I'm glad exercise can help with migraines - it helps with a lot of ailments. I suffered increasingly severe migraines (in intensity and frequency) and the only that stopped them (90% reduction) was stopping oral contraceptives. My doc didn't go there, I just had to try something for my self since I was out of commission and missing work (3 migraines a week near the end). And stopping hormonal birth control yielded immediate and lasting results for me. - 9/7/2011   10:36:18 AM
  • 27
    @Ginger: Exercise never worked for me either. The only thing that got rid of my migraines was acupuncture. It's a process that takes a while, the longer a person has suffered the longer it takes to correct the problem, but it's totally worth it. I hope your daughter finds something that works for her. - 9/7/2011   9:31:15 AM
  • LEIGHN62
    I have always noticed that my migraine subsided when I excercised on the treadmill but came back when I stopped excercising. I have been excercising consistently (intense walking workouts on the treadmil) for about the last 9 months and I believe I do have fewer headaches. This article definitely motivates me to continue to excercise. - 9/7/2011   9:13:21 AM
  • 25
    My daughter suffers from terrible migraines; has been an avid exerciser/runner for over 10 years; goes to gym regularly & so far nothing has worked for her. She's slim, eats excellently & is otherwise healthy. Am hoping something helps her one of these days - 9/7/2011   7:52:28 AM
  • 24
    Yep - For me it's regular, but painful headaches. I can tell you how far I have to run or ride my bike (Full out run or ride) before the headache goes away. Works for migraines but I often give in the the migraine as can't think straight and often only want cool dark. quiet place. Thanks Nancy. I hope others will benefit. - 9/7/2011   7:15:03 AM
    I suffer horribly from migraines, mostly food related. I noticed that when I exercise at a reasonable level, it helps. However, if I overdo exercising, that will cause a migraine, as well. Need to find that happy medium! - 9/7/2011   7:03:07 AM
    wow-very interesting! My daughter suffers from migraines, and is just starting to run, so I will be interested in how this effects her. - 9/7/2011   6:10:29 AM
    This is motivating. I don't get migraines exactly, but I get frequent headaches (probably about 15/month). I have only been with Sparkpeople for a month and haven't got into an exercising routine, but now I think I will! - 9/7/2011   3:20:48 AM
  • 20
    This all so interesting to me. I also have had migraines for about as long as I can remember. All the same things, hormones, stress, to hot......
    This motivates me to get serious again about exercise and eating healthy! - 9/7/2011   2:35:44 AM
  • 19
    My problem is I get exercise-INDUCED migraines. But on the flip side when I exercise regularly I get less migraines that are not exercise induced. Light, dehydration, stress, time of the month are other triggers of migraines for me. I know that if I work out I have less stress and overall I have less migraines. The trouble is that sometimes I get migraines from my workout. - 9/6/2011   9:26:00 PM
  • 18
    Thanks for that info. I suffer from migraines although they are infrequent now that I am retired. Hopefully the weight and healthy exercise & lifestyle will help more. WooHoo!!! - 9/6/2011   5:58:25 PM
  • 17
    Very interesting - and very Hope Producing! I've really just recently become consistent with exercising, so I look forward to finding out if it will minimize or prevent the monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) Migraine.
    - 9/6/2011   2:35:59 PM
  • 16
    I started an exercise program and a diet change (clean/organic) in January 2010. My migraines went away- I had been having them almost nonstop for over 4 years. They started once a month, then twice... finally I had a 3 day migraine on the left side and then a 3 day migraine on the right nonstop :-(. - 9/6/2011   2:03:15 PM
  • 15
    I've had migraines since the age of 15 (ironically, during the most athletic time of my life). At 39, I've picked up my exercise routine to include more jogging and steep incline treadmill walking (great intensity with less jarring as some have noted), and I've noticed a significant decrease in the number and intensitiy of my headaches, and no migraines (knock on wood). It's been noticeable, so this article really caught my attention! Thanks for the posts. - 9/6/2011   1:41:42 PM
  • 14
    Humm...when I first saw the title I thought yah right I am going to exercise with a migraine but then I read it and went wait a second....I started regular exercise 8 1/2 years ago and since then I have had migraines only a couple times a year verses a couple of times a week. Not to mention I used to have migraines that also came with memory loss but the migraines I have occasionally now do not include memory loss and aren't half as severe.... I never gave it any thought until just now.... Exercise may be why I have so few and less severe migraines. Thanks for the information!!!!! - 9/6/2011   1:25:37 PM
  • 13
    I have suffered from migraines for a long time, but I have realized as the article says, that with all my problems, I can do exercise and as in the past, it helps with the migraine. I used to lay down for a migraine, but now I tend to get up and go out side. I change the way my head lays down, changing neck positions, and this helps. - 9/6/2011   1:11:19 PM
  • 12
    I have suffered from migraines since the age of 8, and thinking about it I have noticed a slight drop in the number of attacks I get since I started seriously running. - 9/6/2011   12:43:28 PM
    Iíve been getting severe migraines (with all the symptoms associated with them) for 25 of my 28 years. I avoid high impact exercise due to joint problems, and find that changing any routine will trigger a migraine. That said, once I establish an exercise routine, it seems to help a bit with the migraines. I have discovered that adrenaline will help ease the pain of stubborn migraines. I had a migraine for about a week and went zip lining (pre-scheduled), and discovered that my migraine seemed to go away for a couple hours. I also found that playing laser tag for a few hours (which I am very active during) helps temporarily control migraine pain as long as I push through the pain in the beginning. - 9/6/2011   12:38:36 PM
  • 10
    Used to have migraines occasionally, maybe three or four times a year. Since I started exercising and eating very healthy, they have not happened again. - 9/6/2011   12:28:04 PM
  • 9
    I need to have my husband read this, he wouldn't believe me that exercise actually helped with my headaches... HA!!! THANK YOU, Nancy!!! ☺ - 9/6/2011   12:27:37 PM
  • 8
    I have been exercising regularly for years and I wish my migraines would go away, but I actually think I get migraines from working out sometimes. If I push it too hard or let my HR stay elevated when I get on the groud to do abs, it's a recipe for instant migraine. The one thing that did help me get less of them is not being on BC pills. Those gave me over 10 a month and now I"m down to about 2-3 migraines a month which is a dramatic improvement over what I was living with before. - 9/6/2011   11:37:25 AM
  • 7
    I've been suffering with bimonthly migraines that last about a week for nearly twenty years. I haven't noticed weather or not exercise reduces the frequency of attacks but I have noticed that if I do light cardio (30 minute brisk walk) during a mild attack the pain goes away and the relief is better than what I get from taking imitrex. - 9/6/2011   10:33:07 AM
  • 6
    This is very interesting! I get really bad migraines and will try anything that will curb them. - 9/6/2011   10:16:46 AM
  • 5
    My migraine specialist is studying this topic, Nancy.
    I had my yearly exam last month. We got very into the amount of exercise I've been doing for the past 2 years and my reduction in overall migraines. I still get the hormonal flux migraines, but overall very few other than that now.
    And that is AMAZING news! I've suffered for over 30 years now!!! - 9/6/2011   10:05:08 AM
    During by twenties/thirties I got migraine headaches, mostly around my period, so most probably triggered by the hormonal change. Some were very severe and triggered me throwing up.

    I was a VERY regular exerciser then--almost daily both an aerobic as well as a strength training workout. I tried exercising during a few migraine episodes figuring perhaps the endorphins would help the migraine pain, but it did absolutely nothing for me. It didn't make it worse, but it didn't make it better either.

    The migraines got better after I went on a gluten free diet (found out I was a celiac), and completely disappeared by my mid to late forties. - 9/6/2011   9:26:02 AM
  • 3
    I have been having increased migrains lately. In fact I woke up in the middle of the night with one. I will have to increase my aerobic activity to see if it will help. - 9/6/2011   9:21:35 AM
  • 2
    This is interesting, and I agree with Adaptivardware in that I have avoided Jarring activities because my head constantly hurts. But this is great motivation to try more aerobic activities. Afterall, what do I have to lose except my migraine? - 9/6/2011   9:06:12 AM
  • 1
    This is a very interesting article, because I read a similar one recently. Only they said exercise is beneficial, but to avoid jarring impacts, because that can trigger a migraine. So they said to avoid running, and skipping rope. I have a chronic headache, and I usually avoid those activities. But most exercise really does help for me, if I feel well enough to exercise. - 9/6/2011   8:51:14 AM

Please Log In To Leave A Comment:    Log in now ›