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Real Life Nutrition Questions Answered

Real Life Fitness Questions Answered

Emma Brown

Janet Aylott

Kelly Marshall
Fitness Consultant


Why do I get headaches post-exercise?

I wonder if you can help, or I'm just a freak!!!! This has happened to me since as long as I can remember, including childhood!

I'd love to do more cardio as obviously its the best fat burning thing you can do, but I always end up with a really bad headache if I push myself too much and obviously you have to push yourself to get anywhere! I tried everything - drinking loads, not drinking anything, drinks loads before and after, eating, not eating you name it, I've tried and still I end up with a thumping head.

Last week I ran 3km on the treadmill, under the Air con unit and took it easy, managed it in 22 mins but I still ended up with a headache all day. I don't think my body copes with heat too well. Its really hot out, I get the same thing. I drink a litre and half of water on a normal day and obviously drink a lot more whilst I'm exercising.

I'd love to try classes like body attack but haven't attempted it due to the fact, I'd probably end up with a thumping head half way through. So at the moment I am doing half hour cardio once a week (as this is about as much as my head can take), body pump twice a week, body balance once, swimming once and LBT (which includes half hour aerobics too). I also do line dancing once a week and horse riding as well.

Is this enough to start my weight loss off? I have been doing this for 5 weeks on 1,400cals a day and haven't lost anything! I feel fit, I still look like a sack of potatoes!!

Many thanks for any help and soz for the long post!


Our expert says...


You most certainly are not a freak and in fact are describing something more common then you may realise: the exercise-induced headache!

There are many potential causes and if you are drinking enough fluid without any easing of the result of exercising then it seems viable that it may be due to other factors, like the way you are exercising, the type of clothes you wear to dissipate heat or underlying issues that may need to be ruled out like spinal issues, vascular issues and blood pressure etc.

Please find below 10 ways to try and help/stop the occurrence of the exercise-induced headache:

1. Make sure you're warming up before starting and cooling down afterwards. Try some easier exercise first, or try a few minutes of stretching. Not only can this eliminate exercise induced headache, it also helps avoid excessive muscle soreness that could lead to a headache later on.

2. Start slowly. If you're just starting an exercise program, don't start with something intensive. You may want to try something as simple as a daily brisk walk, and then move on once your body is used to it. You are wise to talk to your doctor before starting a new program, especially if you're over 40 or you have an injury or heart trouble.

3. Stay well hydrated. That means, drink water! (this obviously may not be the key factor for yourself but keep up the good hydration levels all the same!)

4. Avoid exercise that involved prolonged stooping.

5. If you've followed the above suggestions and you're still getting headaches, try taking a couple of NSAIDs before you start, such as ibuprofen (Advil).

6. Try gentler exercise. Lower impact, more stretching. If tennis is causing a problem, try swimming instead, for example. I.e. it may be that you need to move away from the impact exercise of running for a period of time so try phasing in non-impact cardiovascular machines instead and see if this makes a difference.

7. Try taking a drug that constricts blood vessels, such as Ergomar, before you begin (suggestion from Valerie South, RN, of the World Headache Alliance). If you were to consider this route I strongly suggest you do this in conjunction with GP guidance and support.

8. If dropping blood sugar levels is a problem try taking a glucose tablet before you begin, and then have a starchy snack or better yet a full meal soon after you finish (within an hour) (from Sue Dyson in Migraines a Natural Approach)

9. Taper off slowly: If you're already involved in intense exercise, don't stop suddenly. If you know you're going to be taking some time off, slow down the exercise, don't quit cold turkey. (Check out this article from the journal of exercise physiology - http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/JEPletter.html)

10. Commonly used medication: The International Headache Society writes that Indocin (an anti-inflammatory medication) is commonly used to treat this type of headache (primary exertion headache or primary cough headache). Some patients have also used ergotamine tartrate. Caution should be exercised when using these medications - talk to your doctor first.

(adapted from www.relieve-migraine-headache.com)

To answer the second part of your question, looking at the range of activities you achieve in a week, it looks fantastic and I say just keep it up. Two body pump classes are excellent, especially when combined with the more flexibility-based class of body balance. The variety provides real long-term motivational success to your plan and your body will appreciate it. Well done and keep it up!


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