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How to Avoid Headaches, According to an MD

June 29, 2024

Of all the nuisances we deal with, headaches are among the worst. A bad one can sideline you for hours, robbing you of productive work time or fun with family and friends. If you suffer from frequent headaches, you’re not alone: About 25% of women reported having suffered a bad headache or migraine within the past 3 months in a 2018 survey. Women were twice as likely as men to have had a bad headache. But you don’t have to suffer; we asked a doctor to share his insights on how to avoid headaches.

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What triggers headaches?

There are many factors that contribute to headaches, including:

  • Stress
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Diet (food sensitivities, or certain additives, such as dyes or nitrates)
  • Allergies
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Lack of sleep
  • Skipped meals

How can headaches be prevented?

It may not be possible to fend off all headaches, but there are steps you can take that may make a real difference.  “While medication is a crucial component for many in managing migraine pain, incorporating certain lifestyle habits can also significantly mitigate or even prevent the onset of [migraine and other] headaches,” says Dr. Kien Vuu, author of Thrive State.  

Here are Dr. Vuu’s recommendations for avoiding headaches. He notes that incorporating these lifestyle habits won’t replace medication for people who need it, but they can be a valuable part of an integrative approach to reducing the frequency and severity of headaches. 

1. Stay hydrated

Even mild dehydration can be a common trigger for headaches. And while drinking enough water is essential, Dr. Vuualso also recommends using electrolytes. These vital minerals are crucial for many bodily functions, including regulating fluid balance, nerve signals, and muscle contractions. You can use electrolyte powder, and also eat foods containing electrolytes, such as watermelon, avocado, and bananas.  

Related: 8 Easy Hacks to Hydrate More

2. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule

Our bodies operate most efficiently when they’re able to rely on healthy patterns, especially when it comes to sleep. “Fluctuations in sleep patterns can provoke migraines,” explains Dr. Vuu. He recommends aiming for consistent sleep and wake times, even on weekends. 

Related: The 3 Best Drinks to Help You Sleep Better at Night

3. Manage stress 

At the top of any list of how to avoid headaches is reducing stress. Dr. Vuu says techniques such as yoga, meditation, or simple deep-breathing exercises, such as 4-7-8 breathing, can help reduce stress levels and potentially decrease the frequency of migraines.

Related: 8 Ways to Destress So You Can Live a Longer Life

4. Eat mindfully 

You are what you eat…and drink. Be especially mindful of caffeine and alcohol intake, as these diet choices can affect migraine and other headache occurrence. While eating healthier foods is an obvious way to support your health, Dr. Vuu says it’s also important to think about when you’re eating. As with sleep, maintaining a steady routine is part of mindful eating, so try to eat meals on a regular daily schedule. 

Related: End Overeating with the Hunger and Fullness Scale

5. Get regular physical activity

Add avoiding headaches to the many reasons why exercise is beneficial. “Regular, moderate exercise can reduce not only the frequency, but also the intensity of migraines for some people,” says Dr. Vuu. However, the key is in the “moderate” part; intense exercise can occasionally trigger migraines, so make sure you don’t overdo it if you’re prone to headaches. 

Related: 5 Super Fun Ways You Can Get Some Exercise Without Even Realizing It

6. Take supplements

Some vitamins and other supplements have been shown to reduce migraine frequency in some people, including magnesium, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and coenzyme Q10. For seasonal headache sufferers, these supplements may be an option to help reduce headache frequency. Be sure to consult with your healthcare professional before starting any supplement. 

Read next: What to Eat (and Drink) When You Have a Headache

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