“It’s a complex relationship, but we know that exercise, generally speaking, helps increase levels of good neurotransmitters, like dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, which contribute to not only fewer headaches, but also better mood and overall well-being,” said study author Dr. Mason Dyess, senior fellow at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
The study included more than 4,600 people diagnosed with migraine. About 75% had 15 or more migraines a month. The other 25% had 14 or fewer.
Study participants completed a questionnaire about their migraine characteristics, sleep, depression, stress and anxiety. They also answered questions about how much moderate to vigorous exercise they got each week — jogging, very brisk walking, playing a sport, heavy cleaning and bicycling, for example.
Researchers divided participants into five groups by frequency of exercise ranging from none to more than 150 minutes per week, the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). About 27% got the recommended amount or more.
Participants who got less exercise than recommended had increased rates of depression, anxiety and sleep problems, the study found.
Researchers found that 47% of the people who did not exercise had depression; 39% had anxiety, and 77% had sleep problems.
By comparison, about 25% of the most active group had depression; 28% had anxiety; and 61% had sleep problems.
The study also found a link between exercise and headache frequency. In the no exercise group, 5% had zero to four headache days a month, while many more — 48% — had 25 or more headache days per month.
In the high exercise group, 10% had low headache frequency and 28% had high headache frequency.