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Can High-Intensity Workouts Reduce Migraine?

The relationship between exercise and migraine can be complicated. While studies have shown it can be as effective as medication and relaxation techniques in preventing migraine, it can also be a trigger for some attacks. A recent study shows that in order for exercise to be effective in reducing migraine, it is best if the exercise includes more high-intensity workouts.

According to the study, moderate continuous exercise and high-intensity interval training were linked to reduced migraine days. However, high-intensity training had the most positive effects.

Researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland randomly assigned individuals with migraine to participate in a 12-week workout regimen. They were divided into three groups: high-intensity interval training, moderate continuous exercise, and no exercise. All participants kept a headache diary 4 weeks before and during the workout regimen.

 High-intensity training consisted of 4 sets of running at 4-minute intervals at 95% of the individual’s maximum heart rate followed by 3 minutes at 75% of the maximum heart rate. Moderate continuous exercise included 45 minutes at 70% to 75% of the individual’s maximum heart rate.

The data, which was presented by lead author Alice Minghetti, MSc at the 18th Congress of the International Headache Society (IHC) 2017 in Vancouver, showed high-intensity training significantly reduced the frequency of migraine attacks.

Minghetti said that both exercise programs were designed so that participants would burn the same amount of energy. She believes the “afterburn” effect of high-intensity training has a positive impact.

“After you do high-intensity training, your body for a long period has to have certain adaptations in  your system, so you need more oxygen after the workout than you do when you have just continuous, moderate-pace exercise,” she said. “So especially for people who are busy or actually enjoy high intensity… it’s a better exercise regimen.”

Learn more about high-intensity training and how it can affect migraine at

  • Yoanna Kehl
    Posted at 03:38h, 13 November

    In my opinion, it depends on what causes the migraine. I have read there are a lot of situation that can cause migraine – alcohol, climate changes, dehydration, hunger, bad sleep, etc. So the exercises will help in one case, but in the other they could be even danger.

  • Denise
    Posted at 19:53h, 25 October

    I have to agree with Beth. Myself being a daily migraine suffer as well. When I do more intense training, running, weight lifting and even an intense yoga class. I get a migraine but when I take a long walk or bike ride I find myself more relaxed. Therefore not getting a migraine attack. I’m still battling every day so I do keep a food and work out diary. Btw , has anyone ever done the food allergy testing by sending in a piece of your hair? They test over 300 foods and chemicals. I would be interested in knowing if it worked for you.

  • Beth
    Posted at 17:23h, 22 October

    If I remember this study correctly, the mean number of attacks per month was pretty low – in the ballpark of 5, maybe? As a chronic, daily migraine patient, high intensity exercise is a trigger. In my episodic days, I definitely could have handle far more. My threshold for an attack was far higher. For now, I’ll stick to low intensity exercise like walking, yoga, and other activities. Something is better than nothing!

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