What to do when exercising gives you headaches

After 6 days without walking, I decided to run 1.6 km with 1- to 5-minute breaks in between. At first I felt accomplished, but as the day went by my head started to hurt more and more until it evolved into my most painful migraine attack in recent memory.

The Migraine Trust writes that strenuous exercise such as running can trigger a migraine attack, especially to those who are already prone to getting migraines. If you have experienced this before, here are some tips I found that can help you deal with it on your next attack.

#1: See a doctor.

According to The Mayo Clinic, exercise headaches are divided into two categories: the first category is harmless (but still painful), while the second may be connected to a more serious problem in your brain–such as bleeding or tumor–or outside the brain, for example coronary artery disease.

If you experience a migraine or headache during exercise or within 48 hours afterwards, please see a doctor. To be honest, I did not see my neurologist because I worry that she will say the same things I already know just like she did the last time I saw her. But if this is your first time experiencing a headache or migraine especially after a workout, don’t be like me; go and see a doctor to make sure that your headache is not a symptom of something more serious.

#2: Do a proper warmup and stay hydrated.

Two possible reasons why you had a headache from exercising are:

  1. You started working out without prior planning or warmup, making your body suddenly demand oxygen; or,
  2. You have not drank enough fluids before and/or during your workout.

(Source: The Migraine Trust)

Stretching your muscles to warm up only takes around 5 minutes, so make sure to do this before working out. If you need a routine, try this one (it’s my go-to):

Also, make sure to drink water before working out and take sips in between sets when you need to. If you’re running or walking, bring a bottle of water with you.

#3: Try a less strenuous activity.

According to The Migraine Trust, headache or migraine may also be triggered when you start a demanding fitness program suddenly after being inactive for a while. This causes muscles to stiffen and get sore.

From this mistake, I learned that it’s better to start slow and build up on your endurance. If you want to run, try brisk walking first and increase your distance week by week. Aim for low- to moderate-intensity workouts especially if this is your first time exercising in a long time (or ever).


If you have been previously diagnosed with a migraine or do not usually engage in strenuous activities, exercise might trigger a headache or migraine. But this doesn’t mean you should avoid working out. With careful planning, you’ll be able to exercise without worrying about this setback.

Photo by Asdrubal luna on Unsplash