Study: Various Intensities of Exercise Help Reduce Headaches

Resistance training with intensities between 10-80% may decrease headaches.

Nothing is worse than dealing with a headache. Whether it’s a migraine, tension headache, or just a general headache, it’s incredibly tough to get things done when dealing with any of these. Headaches are complex and multi-factorial and there could be a lot of underlying problems causing them.

Outside of underlying issues, there are also a lot of ways to ease the pain of headaches and one of them is completely natural and will boost other areas of health as well. What is this natural remedy? Exercise.

Author’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. If you experience headaches on a regular basis, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource.

The Latest Review

In a new review published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, authors explored different types of exercise intensities and their relationship to headaches. (1

The latest review investigates what type of exercise helps to relieve headaches and how much is needed to create a noticeable and favorable change. To explore this topic, authors of the review investigated 16 total studies that used either aerobic exercise or resistance training to help alleviate headaches and their symptoms.

Of these 16 studies, 8 of them investigated aerobic training and the other 8 explored resistance training. Study populations varied from 16 to 573 individuals and ages ranged from 18-55.

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Aerobic Training and Headaches

As for the 8 aerobic training specific studies, authors point out that every study that was included no matter the exercise mode had an effect on headache parameters. They point out that within the research:

  • 56% experienced a reduction in pain days
  • 31.5% experienced a reduction in pain intensity
  • 21% experienced a reduction in pain duration

These studies included running, stepping, biking, walking, and home workouts and frequency of workouts ranged from 2-5 times a week with durations ranging between 40-60 minutes.

Resistance Training and Headaches

The majority of the 8 resistance training studies utilized questionnaires to indicate positive changes that resistance training had on headaches. Authors pointed out that a majority of the workouts used free weights and frequency of training ranged from 2-30 minutes with the frequency of of 1-5 times a week.

Intensity of exercise varied greatly between 10-80%. As for an actionable plan, authors noted that one hour of resistance training a week for 20 weeks has been suggested to be highly effective for positive change on headache crises. Additionally, they highlight that resistance training for 30-minutes once per week over a span of 8-weeks is a minimum for producing a positive change.

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Wrapping Up

All of the studies included in the review produced a positive effect on headache parameters. Regular weekly aerobic training has been suggested to create positive effects and resistance training with intensities ranging between 10-80% have all been suggested to play a positive role on reducing headaches.

In all of the studies, workout frequency varied greatly along with intensity, and while we still don’t know exactly what intensity is needed to produce a positive effect, we can at least infer that something is better than nothing.

Moral of the story, regular exercise can have a positive effect on much more than body composition, strength, and hypertrophy.

References

1. Machado-Oliveira, L., da Silva Gauto, Y., de Santana Neto, F., da Silva, M., Germano-Soares, A., & Diniz, P. (2020). Effects of Different Exercise Intensities on Headache. American Journal Of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation99(5), 390-396.

Feature image by hurricanehank / Shutterstock

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake holds a Master’s in Sports Science and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as the Fitness and Training Editor at BarBend. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand.

As of right now, Jake has published over 1,300 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake’s bread-and-butter.

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