Running and epilepsy: what you need to know

  • August 20, 2021
  • 4
In this article

Did you know that running is the third most popular exercise in the USA - coming just after walking and weightlifting. Going for a run requires no special equipment (apart from a pair of sneakers), doesn't cost a cent and is very flexible - it's completely up to you how far you go.

But what if you have seizures? Our guide to running and epilepsy looks at what you need to know about this exercise.

Running and epilepsy – is it safe?

Yes, generally speaking it is perfectly safe for people with epilepsy to go running. 2015 guidelines published by the International League Against Epilepsy said that athletics (which includes running) poses no significant additional risk for seizures.

Of course, you should always speak to your epilepsy care  team before taking up a new sport. If you haven't done much running before, check with your doctor first.

There are some seizure risks that come with running. If your seizures are triggered by things like overheating, dehydration or tiredness, running and epilepsy could be a problematic mix. You might find it useful to record your  seizures in Epsy, to help you identify your seizure triggers.

Learn more: Everything you need to know about exercise and epilepsy

Possible benefits of running with epilepsy

Each person is different, and so running and epilepsy might not be for everyone. However research shows that sports like running can bring benefits to people with seizures.

  • Could help with seizure control: Studies of people with epilepsy who do aerobic exercises seem to suggest that it could help to reduce seizure frequency.
  • Improves overall physical health: Running is an excellent way of losing weight and improving your fitness. This is good for your health in general and can tackle comorbidities (conditions that happen at the same time as epilepsy) such as diabetes.
  • Good for your mental health: Ever had a ‘runner’s high’? Activities like running can release endorphins in your brain which boost your mood.

Precautions to take with running and epilepsy

If you'd like to get into running but have seizures, there are a number of precautions that you should take before you begin:

  • Try to run with a friend, so they can help in case a seizure happens 
  • Avoid running on treadmills if your seizures are not well controlled
  • Avoid running near busy roads
  • If you do run alone, make sure to wear an epilepsy bracelet so a passersby will know what to do if you have a seizure
  • Drink plenty of fluids and avoid running when it is too hot out
  • Use cellphone apps that let you share your current location with a loved one

Famous runners with epilepsy

Having seizures did not stop some of these professional runners from achieving incredible success in the world of running:

  • Diana van Deren

The legendary American ultra runner has competed in many races of 100 miles or more and notably won the Yukon Arctic Ultra 300 in 2009. She had seizures throughout her life until she had a lobectomy in 1997.

  • Florence Griffith Joyner

The fastest woman of all time, Florence Griffith Joyner’s 1988 world records for the 100m and 200m remain unbeaten to this day. Born and raised in California, Griffith Joyner’s seizures were caused by a lesion on her brain and she tragically died from a seizure in her sleep aged just 38. 

  • Dai Greene

The British Olympic athlete specialized in the 400 meter hurdles and won the World, European and Commonwealth titles in the event between 2010 and 2011. He was diagnosed with epilepsy aged 17 and is an ambassador for an epilepsy charity.

  • Salvatore Antibo

A silver medal winner in the 10,000 meters at the 1988 Olympics, Italy’s Salvatore Antibo was an icon in his country. Throughout his career he suffered absence seizures - sometimes during races.

Find an epilepsy run near me

Joining in runs and marathons in support of epilepsy charities is a fantastic way of helping the community and meeting other people with the condition. Check out our schedule for sponsored marathon running and epilepsy fun runs in 2021:

Sharon’s Ride Run Walk

  • Location: San Diego CA
  • Date: 18th April

The 5K race is one of the largest epilepsy awareness events in the country.

Seize the Day 5K

  • Location: Baton Rouge, LA
  • Date: 24th April

A fundraising run for Epilepsy Alliance Louisiana.

JW’s Walk and 5K

  • Location: Manhattan, KS
  • Date: 1st May

A 5K walk or race to raise epilepsy awareness.

Purple Pumpkin 5K for Epilepsy

  • Location: Middletown, CT
  • Date: 31st October

Annual 5K to raise funds for the Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut.

Magnolia Run and Walk for Epilepsy

  • Location: Atlanta, GA
  • Data: November, date TBD

Raise funds for Epilepsy Foundation Georgia.

Note that while the pandemic is ongoing, some of these events may be postponed or held virtually.

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