Epilepsy and Exercise

Ask the Expert

Q:

I'd like to run a half marathon next spring. I exercise regularly and have been seizure free for years. Should I make any changes now?


A:

There are many myths surrounding epilepsy and exercise, including the notion that people with epilepsy shouldn't exercise for fear of bringing on a seizure. In fact, for the majority of people who have epilepsy, exercise can have beneficial effects.

Although there are rare cases of exercise-induced seizures, in general studies have shown that physical activity can decrease seizure frequency, as well as lead to improved cardiovascular and psychological health. Exercise can also help alleviate some of the conditions often associated with epilepsy, such as depression and anxiety.  Regular exercise also can provide an outlet for easing general life stress, which is one of the most common seizure triggers.  Last but not least, exercise can improve bone density, helping to counter the bone loss that is a common side effect of many antiepileptic drugs.

Before undertaking any change in your exercise regimen, consult your health care provider and discuss the possible risks involved. This is particularly true if you are still having seizures.  Make sure you see a physician who fully understands your condition—a neurologist or an epileptologist.  An epileptologist is a neurologist who specializes in epilepsy.

No matter the case, you will want to introduce a new routine slowly to avoid any undue stress on your body. Also, be sure to adequately warm up and cool down with each exercise session and drink plenty of water so that you stay hydrated.

If you increase your level of exercise, it is important to pay attention to how this might affect other possible seizure triggers. Be sure you get plenty of sleep and eat healthily. Some people find that getting overheated or overtired can trigger seizures. If this is the case for you, be sure to avoid exercising outside when it is too hot.

Some activities are riskier than others for people with epilepsy. If you plan to take up sports like swimming, skiing, mountain climbing or horseback riding (where suddenly losing consciousness could place you in immediate danger) or want to participate in contact sports where you run the risk of suffering a blow to the head, consult your doctor and review your seizure control status to evaluate the risks involved.  Otherwise, do your best to get out there and have fun!

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