Kerri Crank, N.P.
It is common for adults to experience the tight aching pain of a tension headache occasionally. According to the World Health Organization, about 50 percent of all adults have regular headaches. They can slow you down or even stop you in your tracks. The pain can be intense or a dull ache and last a few hours or up to a couple of days. Regardless of your exact symptoms, you want relief.
Here are six things that you can do to help lessen your headache intensity or frequency. As a bonus, these tips also help other health conditions as well including heart disease, depression, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
1. Exercise regularly
You know that exercise is good for your body but it also is good for your brain. Exercise is the best lifestyle change you can make to significantly reduce your headaches. It is a natural stress reliever that lowers the tension that can trigger headaches and releases feel-good endorphins that block pain signals to the brain. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five days a week or 150 total minutes per week to experience the full benefit.
2. Limit caffeine
Some over-the-counter headache medications include caffeine, and it is true that a small amount can help stop your headache. However, heavy caffeine use could be causing your headaches. Too much raises your blood pressure and can trigger a headache. Soda and energy drinks can be particularly bad. Any reduction in caffeine can help, so aim for no more than one cup of coffee or tea a day.
3. Eat a healthy diet
Some people with chronic headaches or migraines have found relief by changing their diets, specifically to eliminate specific foods. For some, a specific food may trigger a headache; for others, certain chemicals in foods can create a trigger load that can reduce the threshold for developing a headache. After eliminating potential trigger foods for a period of time, you can slowly reintroduce them one at a time. Some common foods to consider eliminating include highly processed foods, caffeine, chocolate, aged cheeses, processed meats that are high in nitrates, high-sugar foods, gluten and alcohol.
Some people find that moving their diet away from processed foods to whole made-from-scratch foods have made a big difference in their headaches. In addition, you may find that a daily multivitamin and supplements of riboflavin and magnesium help with headaches.
4. Avoid substances
It’s no secret that alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs affect your brain. Many people who have chronic headaches or migraines are sensitive to alcohol. Limit your alcohol intake to one drink a day if you are woman or two drinks a day if you are man. If you smoke, quit.
Sleep is essential to our well-being, and getting an adequate amount can help your headaches. You may find that you don’t need the recommended full eight hours per night, but it is important that you get enough to feel like you are functioning well.
Avoid over- or under-sleeping, as this can trigger migraines. If you have been told that you snore, talk to your doctor about sleep apnea, which also can trigger headaches.
6. Get a life
Stress can make your head hurt, so find something you enjoy doing that reduces stress and gets your creative juices going. Headaches are more likely to occur when you are stressed, so do what you can to keep your stress level under control. Take the time to indulge in taking care of yourself, whether that is going to an activity or staying at home. If you aren’t recharged by hanging out with others, then have something at home that helps you get in sync with yourself again.
Talk with your primary care provider if you have headaches occurring a few times per week, are debilitating, last more than one day or interfere with your daily activities, such as missing work or life activities.