This Type of Exercise May Cure Your Headaches

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A headache is a pain in the — well, head. Like any normal human being, you probably suffer from headaches now and then, because of stress, a genetic predisposition to headaches, lack of sleep, or poor diet, but a growing body of research suggests that there may be a preventative measure you can take to keep your insufferable headaches under control: regular cardio workouts. Yes, good old fashioned aerobic exercise. For those who unfortunately suffer from migraine headaches, this could help to shed some light when all you want to be is in the dark.

According to a Swedish study published in the journal Cephalalgia, migraine patients suffered from fewer headaches after doing 40-minute cycling workout routines three times a week for three months. The study showed that this exercise routine worked just as well for those who engaged in relaxation sessions and those who took the top migraine-preventing drugs, such as Topamirate, minus the terrible side effects including depression, cognitive impairment, and tremors, as well as the added bonus of a reduction in headaches over a nine-month period. Going for a jog or participating in other forms of aerobic workouts can help with regular headaches as well, says Alexander Mauskop, M.D., director of the New York Headache Center in Manhattan, to Men’s Health.

Dr. Mauskop theorizes that the cardio routine may just be another stress reliever that counteracts how most headaches are often triggered: by stress. If you eliminate the trigger, you eliminate the pain. Dr. Mauskop adds that it could also be the endorphins, the feel-good hormones, that are released while you exercise that function to block your pain receptors, acting as a natural painkiller.

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For your cardio routine, Dr. Mauskop recommends a half-hour of moderate-intensity cardio, like jogging, biking/cycling, or swimming three times a week. He warns against high-intensity interval training because for some, overexerting yourself or increasing the intensity too quickly can trigger headaches in some people. To avoid that, make sure your heart rate does not jump above 150 BPM. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, you’ll be able to tell if you’re working out too vigorously if you can’t exclusively maintain breathing through your nose, he says.

In addition to the prescribed aerobic exercise Nabih Ramadan, MD, a neurologist at the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago and chair of the National Headache Foundation (NHF) Education and Biomedical Research Committee, stresses the importance of regular exercise for migraine sufferers as those patients are at a slightly increased risk of stroke in Everyday Health. In fact, lack of exercise is a risk factor for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, Dr. Ramadan says. However, regular exercise is preventive measure to reduce those risks. To round out your cardio routine, he suggests adequate and regular sleep to lower stress levels, as well as a balanced diet, avoiding foods that trigger headaches. Make sure you also stay well hydrated.

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