One Small Thing: Get Moving to Reduce Migraines

Moderate amounts of exercise may lower migraine frequency, a headache expert says.

Migraines can be debilitating, but regular exercise could help reduce the frequency of attacks. (Photo: Pierre Desrosiers/Getty Images)

Aug 30, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

Here’s one small thing you can do today for better health: Reduce the frequency of migraines by getting some exercise, says neurologist Dr. Lee Peterlin, director of Johns Hopkins headache research.

Why you need to do it: While medications can greatly reduce the incidence of migraines, they don’t always work. Some drugs have side effects, and not everyone wants to take them. Exercise can be a low-cost, non-invasive effective treatment.

A 2011 study in the journal Cephalagia found that among a group of migraine sufferers, moderate weekly exercise worked as well as the migraine drug topiramate and relaxation exercises in reducing migraine rates.

MORE: One Small Thing: Cut Back on Mutlitasking and Improve Your Memory

Other studies, Peterlin says, have linked obesity with a higher risk of migraines, as well as weight loss in obese people with a reduction in migraines. Some research suggests an association between a sedentary lifestyle and an increase in headaches.

The connection? Obesity contributes to inflammation, which may play a role in migraines as well. Exercise has been shown in some studies to be effective in tamping down inflammation in the body.

What you can do: Moderate amounts of aerobic activity can make a difference, Peterlin says, so don’t worry about having to train for an Ironman triathlon. Doing something—taking a brisk walk several times a week—is better than nothing, but she suggests striving for the government recommendation of being active for 150 minutes a week (basically a half-hour a day, five days a week).

“Eat a healthy diet, get moving and avoid excessive weight gain,” she says. “There are things you can do without your doctor, or sometimes in addition to what your doctor recommends.”

Do you suffer from migraines or bad headaches? What are your remedies? Let us know in the comments.

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