Aerobic Exercise Reduces Migraine Burden

spin bikes at a gym
spin bikes at a gym
Participants with migraine and coexisting tension-type headache and neck pain were enrolled in a 3-month aerobic exercise program.

Migraineurs have a new tool to potentially reduce their pain and disease burden. Recent research has found that exercise reduced the burden of migraine and the ability to engage in physical activity by reducing the effect of tension-type headache and neck pain (NP). Participants who exercised also experienced reduced migraine frequency and pain intensity and duration compared with controls, although this was not significant. The results were published in Cephalalgia.

The study was conducted at 3 Scandinavian universities. Fifty-two consecutively recruited individuals with migraine and coexisting tension-type headache and NP were randomly assigned to either an exercise group or a control group.

Participants in the exercise group engaged in biking/cross-trainer/brisk walking for 45 minutes, 3 times weekly. Control patients continued with their usual daily activities. The researchers assessed pain frequency, intensity, and duration; physical fitness; level of physical activity; well-being; and ability to engage in daily activities at baseline, after treatment, and then at follow-up (6 months later).

There was no significant difference between groups for the number of migraine days from baseline to treatment end to follow up in the primary endpoint, which was migraine frequency.

However, the exercise group showed better physical fitness (P =.005) and higher metabolic equivalent task minutes per week (P =.013) compared with control patients after the treatment period. In addition, they showed a reduction in the burden of migraine in terms of improved ability to participate in household chores (P =.028), paid work/study tasks (P =.008), family activities (P =.012), and physical activity (P = .004).

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Their improved ability to engage in physical activity, household chores, and paid work/study tasks was attributed to the reduced effect of tension-type headache and NP.

Within the exercise group, significant reduction was found in migraine frequency, pain intensity and duration, NP intensity, and burden of migraine, as well as an increase in physical fitness and well-being.

Investigators noted that aerobic exercise was found to be safe. The investigators concluded, “These results emphasize the importance of regular aerobic exercise for reduction of migraine burden.”


Krøll LS, Hammarlund CS, Linde M, Gard G, Jensen RH. The effects of aerobic exercise for persons with migraine and co-existing tension type headache and neck pain. A randomized, controlled, clinical trial [published online January 15, 2018]. Cephalalgia. doi:10.1177/0333102417752119