When a migraine hits you like a ton of bricks, the last thing you might consider as a remedy is exercise. In fact, many sufferers steer clear of the gym because they worry that if they exert themselves too much, a bad migraine could get worse, according to an article in The New York Times.

As it turns out, exercise may actually have a positive effect. In fact, individuals who tend to get migraines appear to benefit from getting exercise a few times a week.

Researchers in Sweden divided nearly 100 migraine sufferers into three groups. For a three-month period, one group got three 40-minute exercise sessions a week, a second group took a drug to help prevent migraines, and a third practiced relaxation exercises. After the study, the participants were monitored for another six months. The researchers found that all individuals got fewer migraines, and that all three interventions worked.

A smaller study, also in Sweden, focused on 26 migraine-prone individuals as they participated in cycling sessions on stationary bikes. For three months, the migraine sufferers cycled three days a week, and researchers looked at them before, during, and after the sessions. They found that the patients were able to reduce both the severity and frequency of migraines, according to The New York Times.

Exercise (not necessarily during the headache) may give you relief from a migraine, says Michael Lanigan, MD, medical director of SUNY Downstate Medical Center Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, NY. "Once a migraine is in place, it may not be your best bet," Lanigan says. "But when you exercise regularly and live a healthy lifestyle, you may have fewer outbreaks of a migraine, and they may be less severe."

Very often, a headache tends to get worse with movement, says Robert Duarte, MD, Director of the Pain Center at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute, which is part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, NY.  "Since movement can exacerbate a headache, people tend to want to sleep," he says. "On the other hand, endorphins are released during exercise that can help you feel better."

Exercise is a fabulous preventive measure, he says. "When you exercise, you feel better, your circulation is better, and your muscles feel stronger," Duarte explains. "When muscles are tight and in spasm, exercise can relieve this."

Exercise acts as a relaxation tool, he says. "So we try to have our patients perform exercise as part of their treatment plan," he explains.

If you're a guy who's prone to migraines, make it a priority to get some regular aerobic exercise, Duarte says. And, he recommends, build in both strengthening exercises of the neck and stretching exercises.




O'Connor, Anahad. "Really? The claim: exercise can ward off migraines." 14 November 2011. The New York Times.

Varkey, Emma et al. "A Study to Determine the Feasibility of an aerobic exercise program in patients with migraine." 9 September 2008.  Headache.

Varkey, Emma et al. "Exercise as migraine prophylaxis: A randomized study using relaxation and topiramate as controls." October 2011. Cephalagia. http://cep.sagepub.com/content/31/14/1428.abstract