Study: Migraine-Free Aerobics Possible

People who suffer from migraine headaches can participate in cycling or similar moderate-intensity aerobic exercise without triggering a migraine attack, according to results of a small study.

Short-term physical activity can trigger migraine, therefore "many people with migraine avoid exercise," said Emma Varkey, registered physiotherapist at Cephalea Headache Centre in Gothenburg, Sweden.

However, "it is possible to increase aerobic capacity even for people with migraine," Varkey told Reuters Health when commenting on her groups' evaluation of a 12-week exercise program for migraine sufferers.

Three times each week, participants completed moderate-intensity cycling sessions, or similar home-based aerobics. These workouts, tailored to prevent exercise-triggered migraine, involved 15 minutes of warm-up, 20 minutes of exercise, and a 5-minute cool-down period.

Of the 20 individuals who completed the physiotherapist-supervised aerobic exercise program, just one developed migraine immediately after a single training session, Varkey and colleagues report in the journal Headache.

At the start of the study, 17 women and 3 men, from 36 to 63 years old, reported 2 to 8 migraines a month. They also reported exercising regularly no more than once per week.

Over the course of the study, there was objective evidence that the exercisers increased their aerobic fitness. Moreover, the men and women reported a significant decrease in the number of migraine attacks and average intensity, days per month with migraine, and medication usage. They also reported significant improvement in their quality of life.

These "promising," findings, Varkey and colleagues say, highlight the need for a randomized, controlled study that compares migraine and associated factors among larger groups of exercisers and non-exercisers.