Leisure-time physical activity with moderate-intensity exercise, for 150 minutes a week, can prevent headaches, especially migraine, the one that most harms day-to-day work. The conclusion is a survey carried out with the participants of the Longitudinal Study of Adult Health (Elsa-Brasil) which, since 2008, has evaluated the occurrence and risks of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular problems.
Through questionnaires, the study verified the time of physical activity of the members of Elsa-Brasil and its relationship with the occurrence and frequency of headache attacks. The study is described in the article Physical inactivity and headache disorders: Cross-sectional analysis in the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health (ELSA-Brasil) published in the scientific journal Cephalagia.
“Headache or headache is a very common clinical condition all over the world and in Brazil, with a high prevalence of so-called primary headaches, which are tension headaches and migraine”, says doctor Alessandra Goulart, from the Centro of Clinical and Epidemiological Research at the University Hospital (HU) of USP, one of the researchers who signed the article.
“Since the beginning of Elsa-Brasil, research has been carried out on headaches, especially migraine. Although tension headaches occur more frequently, migraine, due to its greater intensity, is more disabling, because it impairs work and other actions daily, whether during or after the crisis.”
The research applied the IPAQ (International Physical Activity Questionnaire), prepared by the WHO (World Health Organization) in Elsa-Brasil participants who reported headaches in the first wave of the study, between 2008 and 2010. About 15 thousand people are part of Elsa-Brasil, 54.4% women.
“We wanted to know the relationship between headaches and physical activity, whether those who don’t have headaches or is the opposite”, points out the doctor. “The questionnaire makes it possible to quantify physical activity during leisure time, that is, the programmed exercises, which have a greater impact on health, also that performed when commuting to work and in domestic activities and, finally, the time that the person spends sitting.”
According to Alessandra, the most studied physical activities are those performed during leisure and commuting to work.
“In the research, higher levels of physical activity were associated with a lower occurrence of both tension-type headache and migraine, in addition to a lower frequency of headache attacks”, he reports. “However, the study also showed that physical activity performed on the way to work is linked to a higher frequency of headache, specifically migraine, in women. Our hypothesis is that air pollutants, very present in cities like São Paulo , can trigger these headaches.”
The research also verified the relationship between headaches and the time of physical activity recommended by the WHO to reduce cardiovascular risk, which is 150 minutes a week at moderate intensity or 75 minutes more vigorously, during leisure or commuting to work.
“In cases of inactivity, when the person does not exercise or does not go to work on foot or by bicycle, there is a greater occurrence of migraine”, he points out.
“Among people who are not active, who move less than the WHO criteria, there is a higher occurrence of both tension headaches and migraines.”
When commuting time was evaluated separately, inactivity was associated with a higher occurrence of tension headache in men, but with a lower occurrence in women.
“It is possible that, in these cases, the physical activity of commuting is not as beneficial as that of leisure”, he observes. “This may also be related to the hypothesis of environmental inadequacy driven by air pollution in large urban areas.”
During leisure time, vigorous physical activity, but below the recommended time, is related to a higher occurrence of migraine in women. “In this case, it is possible that there is influence of hormonal factors, such as premenstrual tension”, she says. Inactivity was associated with a higher frequency of both forms of headache. “The recommendation of the study is to perform leisure-time exercise, with moderate intensity, 150 minutes per week, to prevent and reduce the frequency and intensity of headache attacks.”
Elsa-Brasil is a long-term follow-up study (cohort) that aims to investigate, in the Brazilian population, the incidence and risk factors for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, including cerebrovascular accident (CVA), hypertension, arteriosclerosis, infarction and other associated diseases.
Started in 2008, the study has about 15,000 participants from various regions of Brazil, aged between 35 and 74 years. They will be summoned again next August for interviews and exams that identify a possible evolution of risk factors for these diseases, considered the main cause of mortality in Brazil and in the world.