Studies show that people with epilepsy exercise less than others. This is largely because of concerns about having seizures while doing sport - and the fact that healthcare professionals used to advise against it. But scientific views about epilepsy and exercise have changed a lot in recent years and it is now generally encouraged.
Here’s what you need to know about epilepsy and exercise.
Is exercise safe for people with epilepsy?
Yes, many types of popular sport are low risk for people with epilepsy. In 2015, the International League Against Epilepsy published new guidelines about safety and sport for people with epilepsy.
According to the guidelines, a wide range of sports come with no significant additional risks if you have seizures. Popular activities on the ‘safest’ list include:
- Athletics (including running - read Olympic sprinter Beth Dobbin's story)
- ...and many more
Besides ‘active’ sports, you might also want to consider yoga, pilates and breathing exercises for epilepsy too. These sorts of activities are very low intensity, but can still give your body a great workout!
Read more: Yoga and epilepsy
Other sports, such as swimming, rock climbing or snowboarding come with more risk. So it’s worth speaking with your doctor before taking up these activities.
Does exercise help epilepsy?
Yes, research suggests that exercise helps people with epilepsy in a number of ways. Epilepsy and exercise benefits include:
- May reduce frequency of seizures – some studies suggest that people who exercise regularly have seizures less often
- Seems to reduce epileptic discharges in the brain and increase seizure threshold
- It may keep your bones strong
- It can help you lose weight, which may reduce the chance of other illnesses
- It may improve your mental health
- Doing sport can help reduce stress, which is a seizure trigger for many
- Mastering a sport can boost your self-esteem
Did you know? 5 NFL players with epilepsy
Risks of exercise with epilepsy
While sport is generally encouraged for people who have seizures, certain activities are not the best exercise for epilepsy. Risks of exercising with epilepsy include:
- Overheating and dehydration
- Having a seizure in a dangerous location (such as in water or while high up)
- Head injuries
As noted above, you should always speak to your treatment team before taking up a new activity. They can advise on what is and isn’t safe for you.
Epilepsy and exercise - doing sport safely
There are a number of things you can do that may make it safer to participate in sports if you have seizures:
- Wear protective gear when needed
- Avoid overexertion and stop if you feel too tired
- Make sure your coach or other players know what to do if you have a seizure
- Keep hydrated and eat a couple of hours before working out
- Avoid high risk activities like skiing, ‘extreme sports’ and water sports
- Other sports like tennis and golf, or even contact sports can be safe with the proper gear
- Some of the best exercises for epilepsy include things like yoga, stretching and walking since the risk is very low
Inspiration: Read about this pro cyclist who also has epilepsy
Get epilepsy and exercise benefits
Taking part in sports has so many physical, mental and social benefits. And some research even suggests it could reduce your seizure frequency too! If you’re looking to try a new sport, check in with your doctor, get the right equipment and get ready to have some fun!