Why do I get headaches during intense exercise?

Posted July 19th, 2009 by Greg Crawford. Comments Off on Why do I get headaches during intense exercise?.

I know there are many times where you are either lifting weights, taking a class, or doing your own cardiovascular workout like running, where all of a sudden you get this sharp pounding headache.

So in this article I’m going to talk about why we might get headaches during exercise and what steps we can take to avoid them.

What happens during a headache?

Nociceptors (the ends of the pain-sensitive nerves) are stimulated by stress, muscular tension, dilated blood vessels, and other headache triggers, and send a message to the nerve cells in the brain, signaling that a part of the body hurts.

 Headaches typically target six main areas. These areas are the muscles of the face and head, the blood vessels at the base of the brain, and the nerves of the scalp, throat, face and mouth. Each affected area has a high number of pain receptors in the immediate vicinity.

 Different chemicals help transmit pain-related information to the brain, including endorphins – natural painkilling proteins. It has been suggested that people who suffer from severe headaches, or other chronic pain, have lower levels of endorphins than people who are generally pain-free.

 Here is a list of factors that might cause a headache to happen

  • Dehydration
  • Imbalance of electrolytes or other minerals.(ex: potassium and sodium)
  • Intake of too much salty foods and diuretic type drinks like coffee
  • Lack of sleep
  • Chronic stress
  • Lack of blood flow or muscle spasms
  • Cigarettes


 Let’s take a look at some steps we can take to avoid exercise induced headaches:  

1.) Drink more water.

            -If you think your drinking enough water…try drinking more!  Cause chances are it’s not enough.  Don’t just drink during exercise, drink before and after to prepare your body for rigorous work.

2.) Lower your intake of natural diuretics

           -Drink no more than 1-2 cups of coffee per day

           -Eat less salty foods and processed meat

            -Do not add salt!  Train your taste buds to enjoy the food and not the salt!!

           –  Do not smoke!!!!!!!

3.) Supplement with electrolytes, vitamins and minerals

–          With today’s modern diet, chances are your body is imbalanced or deficient in certain nutrients.  Take a multivitamin and multi mineral as an insurance policy.  Capsule form is the best because they are more easily absorbed by your body.

4.) Naturally increase endorphins in the body

–          Before beginning intense exercise, warm up really well and listen to some motivational music.

–          Focus on your breathing and meditate first for a few minutes.  De-stress yourself before you stress yourself!!

–          Try to get more sleep!! At least 7-8 hours a night.  

5.) Stretch and increase flexibility

–          Stretch at the end of every workout.  This will improve flexibility, which will improve blood flow and recovery, which may alive vascular dilation in the head.

–          Try Yoga…Great for flexibility, breathing, and meditation.


Hopefully this knowledge will help alleviate those painful headaches.   If headaches do continue after taking all necessary steps than I would advise you to seek a professional and ask your doctor to look into this further.

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