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Exercise and Headaches – What’s the Connection?

A woman exercising for headache relief

Medically Reviewed By:

Mary K. Polinard, BSN, RN, CNOR

Exercise is one of the most beneficial things that a person can do for their own body. Some people are concerned about getting an endorphin headache due to exercise, but endorphins are actually a great way to fight headaches naturally. However, there is a connection between exercise and headaches.

Here is some information about the connection between exercise and headaches to help individuals exercise safely and prevent unwanted pain and pressure. With a better understanding about this connection, it is possible to maximize the benefits of exercise while avoiding the risk of subsequent pain.

The Endorphin Headache Connection

When a person exercises, the body releases natural chemicals called endorphins and also enkephalins. Endorphins are considered to be natural painkillers, and enkephalins are natural anti-depressants. In addition to the release of these chemicals during periods of activity, exercise also helps to reduce physical bodily stresses and relieve muscle tension through repetitive movements and stretching.3

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Ways to Stop a Headache During Exercise

In some people, exercise can be a trigger for headaches. This may because a person has not eaten properly before exercising, is dehydrated, or isn’t prepared for the level of intensity being attempted.2 It can also result from an increase in blood pressure from exertion.1 When a headache begins during exercise, slowly decrease the level of intensity or take a break to see if the headache subsides on its own.

How to Help a Headache After Exercise

Exercise-related headaches can typically be treated in a similar way to other types of headaches, including rest, and applying cold packs to the head. Since exercises drains the body’s supply of nutrients, it may also help to eat a nutrient-rich meal with fresh fruits and vegetables after workouts to relieve head pain.

Avoiding exercise entirely is not a good solution for preventing exercise-induced headaches because working out is so beneficial to all parts of the body and mind. However, it may be necessary to choose a different form of exercise if one type regularly results in head pain. For example, if the high impact of running tends to cause headaches, perhaps it’s time to try cycling, swimming, dance fitness classes, or another form of cardio instead. The important thing is to find exercises that are enjoyable and keep the body active, strong, and flexible.1

Exercise for Migraine Relief

It is very interesting that exercise can lead to headaches, but it is also an effective strategy in relieving headaches too. Exercise for migraine relief is often recommended by doctors as a great way to release the body’s natural painkillers. To utilize exercise as part of a migraine prevention strategy, make sure to stay well-hydrated before, during, and after workouts. It is also recommended to eat a small meal an hour or two before exercising to help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent cramping. Warm-up and cool-down exercises are a very important part of any workout, so always make sure to gradually ramp up and back down again to ease the body into and out of intense exercise.1

Vanquish® is indicated for tension headaches. If you have a cluster headache, sinus headache, migraine headache or any other type of headache you may want to consult a doctor.

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References for Exercise and Headaches – What’s the Connection?

1. American Migraine Foundation. Retrieved on September 3, 2019 from https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/effects-of-exercise-on-headaches-and-migraines/.
2. Mayo Clinic. Exercise Headaches. Retrieved on September 3, 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/exercise-headaches/symptoms-causes/syc-20372276.
3. Mayo Clinic. Exercise and Stress: Get Moving to Manage Stress. Retrieved on September 3, 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469.

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