migraine headache

(Credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Migraine headaches are nothing to take lightly. For some people, the pain can be so debilitating it can lead to nausea and even vision problems. While there can be several causes for a migraine, a new study finds the best prescription may be regular exercise. Researchers from the University of Washington say just two-and-a-half hours of exercise a week can reduce many of the causes which trigger a migraine.

The new report finds more than two-thirds of people who suffer migraines do not get enough exercise. By increasing the levels of moderate to vigorous exercise each week, researchers say this will lessen migraine triggers such as stress, depression, and sleep problems.

Even the most physically active people are not immune to migraines. Athletes like Serena Williams and Dwyane Wade have a history of dealing with the painful headaches during their playing careers. The study authors say people can also benefit by completing at least two-and-a-half hours of brisk walking, playing sports, and even heavy cleaning each week.

“Migraine is a disabling condition that affects millions of people in the United States,” says study author Dr. Mason Dyess in a media release. “And yet regular exercise may be an effective way to reduce the frequency and intensity of some migraines.

Exercise releases natural pain killers called endorphins, helps people sleep better and reduces stress. But if people with migraine are not exercising, they may not be reaping these benefits,” the researcher continues.

Less exercise is bad for your mental health

In the study, 4,647 people completed a questionnaire about their migraine characteristics, sleep, depression, stress, and anxiety levels. They also noted how much moderate to vigorous exercise they participated in each week. The group was allowed to include those alternate activities like playing sports and cleaning in their answers.

Around three-quarters of the participants dealt with chronic migraine pain; meaning they suffer from 15 or more migraines a month. The others had episodic migraines, between one and 14 each month.

Researchers then divided participants into five groups based on their levels of weekly exercise, including zero minutes, one to 30 minutes, 31 to 90 minutes, 91 to 150 minutes, and those exercising over 150 minutes per week. The World Health Organization recommends at least two-and-a-half hours (150 minutes) of fairly vigorous exercise every week.

The results reveal just 27 percent of the group report meeting that fitness recommendation. People who got less than 150 minutes of exercise each week had increased rates of depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.

Almost half of the participants (47%) who did not exercise reported experiencing depression, compared to a quarter of people in the group that exercised the most. Four in 10 people who did not exercise also experienced anxiety. Only 28 percent of the group exercising the most said the same.

More than three in four people who don’t exercise (77%) noted having sleeping problems however, a majority of the high-exercise group did as well (61%).

“There are new therapeutics available for migraine, but they are very expensive,” adds Dr. Dyess, a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “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.”

Exercise cuts down on chronic headaches

Researchers also discovered a link between exercise and the risk of developing chronic migraines. Among the people in the no-exercise group, five percent had low headache frequency — zero to four headache days per month. Nearly half (48%) had high headache frequency, or more than 25 headache days per month.

Of the people getting the proper amount of exercise, 10 percent had low headache frequency and 28 percent had high headache frequency.

The finding are set to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting being held virtually from April 17-22.

SWNS writer Laura Sharman contributed to this report.

Our Editorial Process

StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

Our Editorial Team

Steve Fink


Chris Melore


Sophia Naughton

Associate Editor