Migraineurs received a bit of good news recently when exercise was proven to be as effective as medication and relaxation techniques in preventing migraine.

Researchers at the University of Gothenberg in Sweden studied 91 women between 18 and 65, who experienced headaches two to eight times per week. The participants were divided into three treatment groups. One group received topiramate; another participated in a relaxation program and the other in an exercise program. The study found that exercising at least three times per week for 40 minutes was as effective in decreasing migraine as topiramate and the relaxation techniques, both of which had already been proven to be helpful.

Some of the women in each of three groups experienced a 75% reduction in the frequency of their migraines, though the average reduction was more modest than that. In an email to Reuters Health, lead researcher Emma Varkey, MD, noted she had not expected the results.

“Topiramate is a drug of first choice which has shown great effects in studies. It was a bit surprising and very interesting that the change in number of migraine attacks was almost similar in all three groups,” she said.

Varkey also noted that topiramate was better at reducing the intensity of pain compared to exercise and relaxation. The non-drug options, however, had the benefit of not causing side effects; one-third of the women taking topiramate withdrew from the study because of adverse reactions.

This study was a small one, Varkey noted, and more and larger studies are needed to confirm these findings, but researchers are hopeful these results will help many migraineurs, especially those who do not want to take daily medication or do not benefit from it.

The study first appeared online in Cephalalgia and then in the October issue of the journal.

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