Exercise Fights Migraine (a study of comparison)

by James on 19 December 2011

It shouldn’t be surprising that exercise is a migraine-fighter, but a recent study published in the journal Cephalalgia in October helps to put the benefits in perspective.

Exercise Study for Migraine
Walking – an excellent way to start

The study of 91 women who had migraine attacks with headache 2-8 times per week.  The migraineurs were split into three groups.  One group was given topiramate (Topamax), the next was put in a relaxation program, and the last group in an exercise program.

Which helped the most?

Over a three month period, with a follow-up of 3 and 6 months.  The surprising result was – that all three groups experienced about the same benefit.

Some patients even found that their symptoms dropped by 75% – a remarkable improvement for any kind of treatment of such frequent migraine attacks.

Considering the possible side effects of topiramate and other medications, and the additional and long term benefits of exercise, it’s clear what we should be focusing on here.

I admit I was surprised at the language of the doctoral student who carried out the study, Dr. Emma Varkey.  She says,"Our conclusion is that exercise can act as an alternative to relaxations and topiramate when it comes to preventing migraines, and is particularly appropriate for patients who are unwilling or unable to take preventative medicines."

So we take medicines, and if that doesn’t work we go the alternate route of exercise?  I think that this study and a mountain of related research should be putting things the other way around.  Let’s find wise, safe ways that migraineurs can exercise, and help them long term, instead of taking money out of their wallets and encouraging them to rely on a pill.

For many migraine patients, it’s going to be a combination – exercise, medication, and other treatments such as relaxation techniques.  We need to look to long term benefits and treatment as well as short term relief.

Read more about headache and exercise here, and then get started with these Headache exercise tips…

More on the study from Science Daily: Exercise Just as Good as Drugs at Preventing Migraines, Swedish Study Suggests

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

BJ Krisher December 19, 2011 at 4:48 pm

I’ve been on Topomax for the second time. First time in 2008 and now again in 2011, I feel I have more side effects this time but I’m taking it with Verapamil and Inipramine. Exercising when I can. I have other physical issues that make exercising difficult. My husband and I go to a gym (I go when I can). I was migraine free for a year and a qtr and then they came back with a vengence so went back on same meds I was on in 08. My body has changed since then and I feel I am more sensitive to meds now. Now sure how well they are working we I don’t know if I want to try going off of them and then having to start over going up on the doses. It’s sure a “Catch 22″ situation.

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Karen Hilton February 25, 2012 at 9:38 am

Like BJ above, I am back on Topamax (Topiramate) for the second time. First time started in 2006. I went off of it last year. My neuro and I had both read the same study which indicated that those with weather related migraine like me were having success on Diomox. So I tapered off Topamax and went on that. Living in the Northwest, the barometer jumps quite frequently ~ unfortunately. I was on Diomox for 6 months of hell. During this time, I began walking for exercise. I hadn’t been able to for a long, long time due to knee issues. Had my knee replaced and once that was healed, the walking began. I’ve been walking now for over two months. And I have been back on Topamax for just about 3 weeks, gradually building it back up into my system. I have to agree that we need to find a balance between the right medication and exercise and alternatives. This disease can’t be put into a box where one thing works for all. It doesn’t. With me, physically I feel better now that I am able to walk and get some exercise. Has it helped with my migraine? I think at this point, it’s really too early to tell since the Diamox was such a complete failure for me and I haven’t been back on the Topamax long enough to tell. Time will tell I guess.

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