A sedentary lifestyle can trigger a headache – exercise helps

Situations at work and elsewhere can trigger migraine and tension-type headaches. These include the pressures and demands you face at work; some days more than others. But not only at work. These situations fall under the general heading of "stress". On the other hand, not being active enough can cause headaches too. A sedentary lifestyle is a big factor in causing migraine attacks and tension headaches.

Many jobs today are done sitting down, possibly for hours on end without a break. Both sitting a lot and working in an unhealthy posture can result in physical strain that manifests as stress. Muscles and tendons stiffen, tension develops, and eventually headaches set in.

But you can do something about it. Regular exercise can relieve stress and strain, which will reduce the frequency of headache attacks. Little things can help a lot. Get up from your desk, do a few stretches, take a couple of breaths of fresh air at an open window. Sneak in a few exercises to combat the effects of prolonged sitting.

Your lifestyle choices after work can help too. There is evidence that cardio training can reduce headache frequency and severity. Cardio can have a great impact on migraine in particular. The Kiel Pain Clinic website contains case reports of patients who reduced their monthly migraine attack burden by exercising.

When you exercise, take care not to overexert yourself or even add to the strain on your body. Competitive sport is known to trigger stress and migraine attacks in some people. Don’t push yourself beyond your limit.

Moderate walking or running, on the other hand, can lessen your headache burden by helping to relieve tension. There is nothing wrong with swimming either, but improper technique can lead to neck pain and a headache. Cycling seems to be ideal all round. It is easily available and offers low-impact exercise in the fresh air.

As a general principle, don’t overdo it. Many people find it more enjoyable to exercise with a friend. If that sounds like you, find a workout buddy. If running is your chosen activity, start at a comfortable pace that doesn’t leave you gasping for breath.

So give it a try. Incorporate movement breaks into your working day. Get regular exercise. All this will help you manage stress, relieve tension and reduce your headache and migraine burden. Just remember not to overexert yourself. Then you’ll be all set to feel better and enjoy the lasting benefits.

  • References
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    • Kernick D. Royal College of General Practitioners; British Association for the Study of Headache. Guidance for the management of headache in sport on behalf of The Royal College of General Practitioners and The British Association for the Study of Headache. Cephalalgia. 2011 Jan;31(1):106-11. doi: 10.1177/0333102410378046. Epub 2010 Jul 29.
    • Koppen H. Migraineurs with exercise-triggered attacks have a distinct migraine. J Headache Pain. 2013 Dec 21; 14:99. doi: 10.1186/1129-2377-14-99.
    • Martin P. Managing headache triggers: think 'coping' not 'avoidance'. Cephalalgia. 2010 May;30(5):634-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2982.2009.01989.x. Epub 2010 Feb 11. Review.
    • Varkey E et al. Exercise as migraine prophylaxis: a randomized study using relaxation and topiramate as controls. Cephalalgia. 2011 Oct;31(14):1428-38. doi: 10.1177/0333102411419681. Epub 2011 Sep 2.
    • Wöber C et al. Trigger factors of migraine and tension-type headache: experience and knowledge of the patients. J Headache Pain. 2006 Sep;7(4):188-95. Epub 2006 Aug 11.
    • Internet:
    • Website der Schmerzklinik Kiel, https://www.schmerzklinik.de/