According to a recent study, people suffering from migraine (without aura) who participated in an aerobic exercise program had significantly less migraine attacks compared to people with migraine who do not exercise. Even in the event that they did have an episode, it was of less intensity and shorter duration.
Migraine is basically a severe throbbing or pulsating headache usually on one side of the head (i.e. unilateral). It is usually accompanied with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, noise & smell and sleep disturbances. It is more common in women than in men. Some patients can predict the beginning of migraine attack because in such cases, visual disturbances (that appear as bright shimmering lights around objects, zigzag lines or temporary loss of vision) known as aura often occur before head pain. This type of migraine is called ‘migraine with aura‘. However, migraines without aura are more common and in such cases the patient may just feel tired or show some mood changes a day before the headache.
Usually, management of migraine involves administration of painkillers. However, a recent study has found that regular aerobic exercise can play a significant role in the management of migraine (it is to be noted though that exercising during the migraine attack can worsen the symptoms). According to the researchers exercise increases the levels of endorphins (body chemical associated with reduced pain) and other body chemicals that might reduce the frequency as well as the intensity of migraine headache.
During the study 36 people were enrolled in an exercise programme. They were asked to stop all their anti-migraine medications and begin the exercise programme after 6 weeks. Each of the exercise session comprised of a warm-up period of 10 minutes, moderate aerobic exercise for 20 minutes and a cool-down period of 10 minutes. All the participants did an exercise session 3 times in a week for 6 weeks, except when they had a migraine episode. At the beginning of the study the participants were also asked to note down the frequency, intensity and duration of the migraine headache experienced during 6 weeks before starting the exercise program and during 6 weeks of exercise program. Also the endorphin levels of all the participants were measured before and after the first exercise session and then at the end of the study. It was observed from the study that the participants experienced a significant decrease in the frequency, intensity and duration of migraine during the last 4 weeks of exercise. Although the endorphin levels were found to be increased after exercise in all the participants, the greater increase and more improvement was observed in those patients who had low endorphin levels at the beginning of the study.
Hence, this study suggests that doing moderate aerobic exercises regularly may help to reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of migraine headaches in people suffering from migraine without aura. However, some other research will need to be done to know whether aerobic exercises have the same beneficial effect in people suffering from migraine with aura.