12 December 2008

Inactivity ups headache risk

People who are sedentary may have a higher risk of developing frequent headaches, the results of a large study suggest.

People who are sedentary may have a higher risk of developing frequent headaches, the results of a large study suggest. The findings, based on surveys of more the 68 000 adults residing in Norway, found that those who never exercised were 14% more likely than their more active counterparts to develop non-migraine headaches over an 11-year period.

Conversely, people who were already suffering from any form of frequent headache were at greater risk of being physically inactive. The findings suggest that a lack of exercise may be a risk factor for developing non-migraine headaches - and that exercise is a challenge for people already suffering from any form of head pain.

It's not clear why a sedentary lifestyle might contribute to headaches, lead researcher Emma Varkey, of the Cephalea Headache Centre in Gothenburg, Sweden, told Reuters Health. But the findings suggest that protection from headaches could potentially be another reason for people to stay active, Varkey and her colleagues report in the medical journal Cephalalgia.

The findings are based on two large surveys of Norwegian adults age 20 and older. One questioned 22 397 adults about their exercise habits and other health factors between 1984 and 1986, and then assessed headache symptoms in a follow-up questionnaire 11 years later.

Headache sufferers more likely to be inactive
The second survey involved 46 648 adults who were questioned about their current exercise levels and any headache symptoms. The fact that headache sufferers were more likely to be inactive is concerning, given the health benefits of exercise, according to Varkey.

"The study indicates that people with headache might need help (or) advice to increase their level of activity," she noted. There are, however, still questions about the types of exercise that are best for people with frequent headaches, according to Varkey.

Exercise usually does not worsen common, tension-type headaches, she noted, but for some migraine sufferers, vigorous activity can trigger episodes of head pain. Varkey added her researcher group will soon publish a study looking at an exercise regimen designed to boost migraine patients' fitness without worsening their condition. – (Reuters Health, December 2008)

Read more:
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Obesity may raise headache risk


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Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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