Breaking Down the Link Between Lack of Physical Activity and Migraines

Breaking Down the Link Between Lack of Physical Activity and Migraines


As someone who has experienced the debilitating effects of migraine attacks firsthand, it is natural to be curious about the potential connection between lack of physical activity and migraine attacks. In this article, we will delve deeper into this topic to understand how physical activity, or the lack thereof, can impact migraine frequency, intensity, and management.

Understanding Migraines

Migraine attacks are neurological disorders characterized by severe headaches often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual disturbances. They can significantly disrupt daily life and productivity. Migraines affect approximately 12% of the global population, with women being more prone to experiencing them than men.

The exact causes of migraine attacks are not fully understood, but a combination of genetic and environmental factors, as well as certain triggers, play a role in their development. Triggers can vary from person to person and may include stress, hormonal changes, certain foods, and changes in sleep patterns.

Role of Physical Activity in Migraines

Regular physical activity is essential for overall health and wellbeing. It has numerous benefits, including improving cardiovascular health, boosting mood, reducing stress, and increasing energy levels. Engaging in physical activity has also been shown to have a positive impact on migraine frequency and intensity.

Several research studies have established a connection between lack of physical activity and increased risk of migraine attacks. In one study published in the journal Cephalalgia, researchers found that individuals who led sedentary lifestyles were more likely to experience migraine attacks compared to those who engaged in regular exercise. Incorporating physical activity into one’s routine can help reduce the occurrence and severity of migraine attacks.

For example, a study conducted at a migraine clinic found that patients who participated in regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or cycling, experienced a significant decrease in the frequency and severity of their migraine attacks. This demonstrates the positive impact that physical activity can have on migraine management.

Sedentary Lifestyle and Migraines

A sedentary lifestyle is characterized by long periods of sitting or physical inactivity. It is often associated with various health conditions, including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and Type 2 diabetes. Research suggests that a sedentary lifestyle may also contribute to the development or exacerbation of migraine attacks.

Prolonged sitting and lack of physical activity can lead to muscle tension, poor blood circulation, and increased stress levels, all of which are potential triggers for migraine attacks. Breaking up long periods of sitting with regular movement, such as stretching or taking short walks, can help alleviate these risk factors and reduce the likelihood of migraine attacks.

For example, individuals who work in office jobs that require them to sit for extended periods may be at a higher risk of developing migraine attacks due to their sedentary lifestyle. Incorporating brief exercise breaks and movement throughout the workday can help mitigate this risk.

Mechanisms Behind the Connection

While the exact mechanisms underlying the connection between physical activity and migraine attacks are not fully understood, several theories have been proposed. One possible explanation is the role of exercise-induced endorphins, also known as “feel-good” hormones, in managing pain perception. Endorphins are released during physical activity and can help reduce the intensity of pain, including migraine attacks.

Physical activity also plays a crucial role in stress reduction and hormone regulation. Stress is a common trigger for migraine attacks, and regular exercise can help mitigate its impact by promoting the release of stress-reducing hormones and improving mood. Additionally, hormonal imbalances, particularly fluctuations in estrogen levels, are associated with migraine attacks in some individuals. Regular physical activity can help regulate hormone levels, potentially reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

For example, a study conducted at a university found that individuals who engaged in moderate-intensity exercise three times a week experienced a significant reduction in stress levels and a decrease in the frequency of their migraine attacks. This highlights the importance of exercise in managing stress-related migraine attacks.

Strategies for Incorporating Physical Activity

Incorporating physical activity into your routine can be challenging, especially when dealing with migraine attacks. However, there are strategies that can help make it more manageable:

  • Find enjoyable and sustainable forms of exercise that you look forward to. This could be walking, swimming, cycling, yoga, or any other activity that suits your preferences and abilities.
  • Gradually introduce physical activity into your routine to avoid triggering migraine attacks. Start with shorter durations and low-intensity activities, gradually increasing the duration and intensity as tolerated.
  • Communicate with your healthcare provider for personalized recommendations and to ensure that you are engaging in activities that are safe and suitable for your specific condition.

For example, if you find that high-intensity workouts trigger your migraine attacks, you may opt for low-impact activities such as swimming or gentle yoga instead. The key is to find activities that you enjoy and that work well with your migraine management goals.

Monitoring and Tracking Migraine Patterns

Keeping a record of your migraine patterns and symptoms is essential for effective management. Utilizing migraine tracking tools and apps can help you document the frequency, duration, and intensity of your migraine attacks. It is also beneficial to track your physical activity alongside your migraine symptoms to identify any patterns or correlations.

By monitoring and tracking your migraine episodes and physical activity, you can gain a comprehensive understanding of the impact of exercise on your migraine attacks. This information can be shared with your healthcare provider, aiding in treatment planning and management.

For instance, you may notice that on days when you engage in regular physical activity, your migraine attacks are shorter in duration or less severe. This insight can help you tailor your exercise routine and identify any potential triggers or patterns.


In conclusion, there is a clear link between lack of physical activity and migraine attacks. Engaging in regular physical activity can help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks. By breaking up sedentary behavior, incorporating enjoyable exercise routines into daily life, and monitoring migraine patterns alongside physical activity, individuals with migraine attacks can take active steps towards better management and improved quality of life.

Jenny from Migraine Buddy

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