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Migraine sufferers, lace up your sneakers

April 3, 2009 |  3:53 pm

Migraine sufferers often avoid exercise because they believe the exertion will trigger symptoms. But a recent study shows that regular exercise — even at a vigorous level — may offer some relief for those with the condition.

I8schjkf The study, conducted in Sweden, included 26 people who took part in a 40-minute indoor cycling exercise program three times a week for 12 weeks. Each session began with a 15-minute warm-up in the light to moderate range, segued into a 20-minute exercise bout that increased the intensity into a more challenging range, and ended with a five-minute cool-down.

Participants kept a diary of their migraine attacks, noting the days, the intensity of the pain, and how much medication was taken. They also filled out a questionnaire regarding quality of life. Researchers measured VO2Max, or the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during intense exercise — a good measure of fitness.

By the end of the study, VO2Max increased considerably and study participants found their symptoms did not get worse during the study. They also had fewer migraines, less intense pain, and used less migraine medication during the last month.No one reported side effects, although one person did have a migraine attack immediately after exercising. Scores in the quality of life questionnaire also improved notably at the end of the study.

Dr. Emma Varkey, co-author of the study, said via a release: "While the optimal amount of exercise for patients with migraine remains unknown, our evaluated program can now be tested further and compared to pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments to see if exercise can prevent migraine." The study apears in this month’s issue of Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (10)

I don't have migraines, but having been told that exercise would relieve depression--which it did not--inspires me to speak up. Prescribing exercise for people who are ill may simply be a setup for blaming the victim. It's nice if it helps some people, and I wouldn't rule anything out on a trial basis. But if it's being pushed with the same certainty and judgmental attitude that exercise was touted for depressives, it's not good science. Nor is it compassionate, fair, or at all helpful.

I will agree that exercise on a regular basis will help regulate hormone levels and oxygen levels to the brain so it only stand to reason that it could help decrease the regularity of Migraine attacks. I so hope that nobody is suggesting that anyone get on a spin bike or go jogging DURING a Migraine. If they are then they have never had a Migraine and have no clue. I don't care how may degrees these people have or studies they have done! I am lucky to be able to make it to the toilet to vomit when I have a Migraine! "Migraine sufferers, lace up your sneakers" really makes light of my medical condition. And YES it is a medical condition that has taken a long time for the health care and others to recognise. For your article to come along and suggest that the cure is to just get out and take a jog is condescending at best!!!!!!!!! I have had Migraines for 5 years. I exercise, keep a food journal, i'm on my 7th anti-seizure medication, have had my hormone levels checked and see a nouralogist on a regular basis. Please do not make a serious condition that sends me to the emergency room at least 4-6 time a year and makes an otherwise healthy individual on constant medication and in pain seem so simple that we just need to exercise more!

The article refers to a scientific study. Exercise lessens the risks associated with diabetes, heart disease and other conditions. Why would the symptoms/causes of migranes be any different?

I have had migraines for over 42 years. iI have tried everything known to medicine to prevent, stop or otherwise treat. Unless you have had a migraine, you cannot possibly understand the depth of the pain that we suffer. I have been told by physicians that I am just a drug addict seeking a legal fix while I was vomiting my "guts" out. my family has found me curled up in a ball by the toliet so that I could vomit in the toliet and not all over the house. It is way past time that Medicine and the public aknowledge the seriousness of this physiological disorder. it is just as real as cardiac, kidney or lung diease. We need compassion and treatment. REASEARCH IS A MUST.

I suffer from migraines and have turned to herbal health remedies as I found the side effects and the cocktail of medications too much. I loved this article and that people are still looking for other ways beyond medication to help us.
Just the fact that this article was published and the study was done shows that migraines are being taken seriously as a true medical condition!!
If something as simple as regular exercise can help with migraines without the horrible side effects of some medications while giving all the other wonderful benefits recieved from exercise why would you knock it instead of trying it??

It seems like no one here really read the information in the article before responding negatively. No where does the article state that exercise will cure migraine head aches. What the article does say is that through regular exercise, patients had "fewer migraines, less intense pain, and used less migraine medication during the last month." Essentially the article is saying that through exercise you can improve your quality of life. Truth is everyone can improve their quality of life through exercise, whether a person suffers from a debilitating chronic condition or not. I do not feel as though the article trivializes the pain or suffering that migraines cause. If anything it tries to be encouraging about the news that a non-pharmaceutical intervention could help decrease the sufferers symptoms. The thing to remember about this article is that there were only 26 people in the study. Thats a very small demographic. Hopefully through further study certain exercises or a certian routine can be designed for the migraine sufferer specifically.

Hum...If I exercise, I will be in better physical shape while I am having my Migraine headache. I have suffered one of my most painful headaches just after climbing a mountain which caused my veins to swell. I think that everything in moderation applies. Some exercise might make me feel better about myself but too much will actually bring on my headaches. And I do agree until you have suffered extreme pain you can not even imagine how painful migraines are.

Migraine sufferers lace up! I believe that excercise keeps you healthy. But the relation between migraine and excercise need more studies or research. I am a migraine sufferer and I exercise regularly. Only co-migraine sufferrers can describe the pain we go through and stop judging us that all we need is excercise. When I know my migraine is about to struck, I get myself ready for the pain attack ahead. I do my breathing techniques, relaxation mind setting, darkening of the rooms, no noise and no interruption/interaction from the kids. This is the time when I am all alone in my world.

I have migraines and I try to exercise regularly, but sometimes work/vacation/etc interferes with getting to the gym. I find that if I'm going to the gym at least 4 times a week and getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, my migraines almost go away completely. If I can't get to the gym regularly, then after about a week and a half of not exercising, my migraines start coming back.

I have suffered from migraines for 15 years and am currently on disability due to the migraines and related depression.  Several years ago my condition improved a great deal due to a good diet and exercise.  I started by walking 5 minutes twice a day and eventually worked up to walking/jogging 5 miles a day about 4-5 days a week.  Somehow I lost my way and my health has been in an extended downward spiral to the point I am now the worst I have ever been.  Reading this article has given the inspiration to begin anew: I am going on a 5 minute walk as soon as I post this.  While I agree that exercise can not cure my condition, it can vastly improve my quality of life.  It's time for me to take charge of my life again and quit being such a victim.  I pray to God for the strenght to succeed.  It is all too easy to stumble along the way and just give in and give up, but I wish all fellow sufferers the courage and conviction to give exercise a try. 


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