Lack of exercise contributes to headaches

Physical inactivity was strongly associated with headache disorders, according to a large study by Swedish researchers published in Headache.  They looked at 43,770 people with recurrent headaches and migraines and found that economic hardship and psychosocial factors (poor social support and experience of being belittled) seem to play a role in headache disorders.   Of lifestyle factors, physical inactivity was strongly associated with headache disorders, while smoking to a lesser extent.  Skipping breakfast, being overweight and underweight seemed to be connected to headaches.

  1. Eric says: 07/28/201312:08 pm

    This is so true for me. I always get headaches when I’m inactive. As soon as I start to excersise they go away. I have migranes that go away within 5 minutes after I start hitting the heavy bag or running. Are brains have evolved but our body are still that of a predator, and needs constant physical movement.

  2. jay says: 12/17/201211:36 am

    i have found the after walking for i’d say the first 6 years of my educational career that after stopping in 7th grade that i have started getting incredibly powerful headaches that make me irritable and the makes my head hurt more vicious cycle but after a walk to get a drink of water my headache just stopped it went away it was a revelation

  3. Mary says: 05/11/20124:38 pm

    If this is truth, the cause of headaches are poor oxygenation and bad blood circulation. When you exercise, you also produce neurotransmitters and regulate insulin levels.

  4. Jason says: 05/09/20121:58 pm

    I am a firm believer that reducing the amount of exercise increases the headache occurrence. For the past two months, I’ve been headache free, but I was exercising 6 days a week. For the last 10 days, I stopped all cardio and have had a headache 7 of those days when waking up. Back on the cardio today!

  5. Justine says: 04/27/20128:16 pm

    I believe this. The reason I am here is because I have honestly correlated sleeping late/getting up late and being inactive around the house after getting up vs. getting out of bed and being active, going out to run errands, etc… with having dull/moderate headaches the rest of the day. I also correlated this sleep and activity pattern with feeling sluggish and irritable. When I get up at a normal time or get up and become active right away without sitting for long periods, I am far less likely to have a headache unless I skip eating.

  6. :) says: 03/31/20125:17 pm

    When I sit around all day for more than 5 hours I get headaches

  7. Dr. Mauskop says: 12/09/201111:07 pm

    If you drink soda with caffeine and then don’t get any caffeine on the days when you are home, you are getting a severe caffeine-withdrawal headache. If you switch to caffeine-free soda this may not happen. However, ideally you should stop drinking soda and drink water. Sugar in soda makes you gain weight and people who are overweight are more prone to headaches. Regular exercise would help you because exercise prevents headaches and because it would help you lose weight. If you have difficulty stopping soda completely, then drink caffeine-free diet soda, but sugar substitutes in diet soda is also not healthy, especially in large amounts.

  8. Amanda says: 12/09/201110:41 pm

    I am 21, overweight and I often don’t eat breakfast. I work at a fast food restaurant, so I drink a lot of soda. But on my days off, if I stay home, if I don’t drink soda and do nothing but sit around, I get a massive, throbbing headache. I don’t know what the cause is. And I don’t want to take ibuprofen not knowing what is going.

  9. Shane says: 01/12/201111:01 am

    I don’t see how some say that exercise causes your problems to get worse. Every day during the spring,summer, and fall I would get up, and go for a few mile walk with my dogs. I would go anywhere from 3-6 miles. Then I’d get back, eat, shower, etc. I always felt great, relaxed, slept well. And now that winter is here and it’s been snowing a lot and is just flat out cold, I haven’t been walking. Every day that I don’t walk or exercise I have really bad headaches…..when I walk I feel good. Our bodies are meant to exercise and work in some way, not sit around on the couch all day. I’ve walked maybe twice in the past three weeks and those were the only days I can remember that I didn’t have a headache so far this winter. Though it was two years ago that some of the people posted on here, I wonder if they started their morning by exercise, eating, etc. You feel the best if you do it in the morning, and a lot of doctors will suggest to do it then. Exercising in the morning before eating also helps improve your digestion which will make you feel better within itself.

  10. Siobhan says: 12/21/201011:14 am

    I used to very rarely get headaches, but I’ve been getting them on every “lazy weekend” I have and I now I know why! Talk about motivation to work out!!

  11. Chris says: 08/30/201010:13 am

    I am absolutely sure that being inactive causes many of my migraines and headaches. I am on disability because of a pain condition, but when I stopped working and started “sitting around” my migraines increased a LOT. When I started becoming more active (working part time) they decreased again. Sometimes, I can even stave off an impending attack by doing something physical.

  12. Emily says: 09/26/20092:50 pm

    I have recently discovered that lack of exercise is the cause of almost all of my headaches and migraines. I suffered a recurrence of regular headaches and migraines when I stopped running, and they stopped completely as soon as I started again. I found your article and the study that you refer to while investigating whether there was any research to corroborate my own experience. I have also contributed an article about my experience on my Women’s Heart Rate Monitor blog.
    I cannot express how delighted I am to make this discovery, which I had previously assumed were due to other factors! I know this will may not be the answer for everybody, but it has to be worth a try to find out. I can think of no better natural remedy!

  13. Dr. Mauskop says: 09/08/20099:59 pm

    It is certainly true that when you are having a migraine attack physical activity will often make it worse. It is also true that some people develop a headache from exercise, but even they can benefit from exercise. Those who seem to develop a headache from exercise need to start with brief periods of cardiovascular exercise and slowly increase the duration and the intensity of exercise. Stationary bicycle is one of the best types of exercise machines because it avoids jarring head movements of jogging which is more likely to cause a headache. It also offers the advantage of taking up little space and being inexpensive. If slow escalation still results in a headache, taking ibuprofen an hour before exercise for the first few weeks can be effective in preventing exercise-induced headaches.
    Here are some theoretical reasons why exercise can help. First of all, it is the best antidote to mental stress. Secondly, it improves circulation in the brain and thirdly, it makes the brain release endorphins – natural painkilling substances. Many patients tell me that when they exercise regularly they have fewer headaches. While this is so-called anecdotal evidence, the Swedish study is highly scientific and confirms what I see daily in practice.

  14. mariana says: 09/07/200911:12 pm

    You mentioned that lack of exercise may be the cause of migraines. This is completely incorrect. I had my first migraine at 12 years of age with aura and am now 62 years of age and have in the last decade experienced migraine symtoms that have added symptoms not familiar to me as a child and young adult.
    Exercise actually increases symptoms. I was not overweight, didnt smoke or drink at 12 years of age if anything in later life when I did drink alcohol it seemed to keep the migraines at bay as I was free of them for years.
    I have noticed that skipping meals can bring on a migraine attack, so that whenever I was dieting I experienced more migraines. That I have to agree with.
    Physical inactivity is now a trendy idea and it just isnt true.


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