Epilepsy Talk

Epilepsy and Exercise | November 13, 2009

You may have been told or thought that exercise can bring on seizures.  Not necessarily so.  At least for a large population of those with epilepsy…

While some medical literature in the past reported that seizures could be induced by exercise, there are also more recent reports that exercise can be beneficial to those with epilepsy.

Many people with epilepsy, especially those with uncontrolled seizures, live a sedentary life and have low physical fitness. Regular physical exercise may have a moderate seizure preventive effect in 30-40% of the patient population, while in about 10%, strenuous exercise may provoke seizures.

Clinical and experimental studies have analyzed the effect of physical exercise on epilepsy. Although there are rare cases of exercise-induced seizures, studies have shown that physical activity can decrease seizure frequency, as well as lead to improved cardiovascular and psychological health in people with epilepsy.

Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, clearly benefits people with epilepsy because it often reduces seizure frequency, relieves depression, reduces social isolation, and promotes cardiac and general health.

In one study, 14 women completed a 3-month prospective exercise program and reported a significant reduction in seizure frequency during the period in which they exercised. In another prospective study, 26 children with intractable epilepsy underwent video-EEG monitoring during exercise and more than half showed a significant improvement in their EEG activity. A survey of 74 patients with epilepsy reported that those who exercised had significantly fewer seizures.

Research has found that most people with epilepsy experience improved electroencephalograph (EEG) readings during and after exercise. The reasons for this are unknown, but theories include:

The heavy breathing associated with exercise stops the build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood…

Reduction and management of stress…

Increase of ‘feel good’ brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) may calm the brain…

Concentration may focus the brain so that seizures are less likely…

Now, I’m not saying you should hike up Mt. Everest, sail the Bahamas, or swim across the Atlantic Ocean.  Hang gliding and sky diving aren’t such a good idea either.  And I wouldn’t recommend roller blades, skiing, or motorcycle jaunts.

But if you listen to your body, stop when you start feeling tired and slowly build up your routine, exercise can make you feel good, look great and put your mind in a better place.

Personally, I’ve been walking 3 miles a day for 20 years.  I find it energizing and calming at the same time. Sometimes, I use “heavy hands” which start at one  pound each.  When I was younger, I was up to 5 pounds in each hand, but age has caught up with me, I’m sad to say.

Other things you can try are: jazzercise (although it makes me a little dizzy), ballet, if you just stick to the exercise part and don’t go twirling around the floor (I take private lessons), aerobics, use of a recumbent exercise bicycle, Pilates, yoga, and light weight bearing exercises, but be sure you have a trainer and please, skip the treadmill or the elliptical machine, no matter how macho you’re feeling.

Also, keep these exercise safety points in mind, for your own protection:

Before starting any new exercise program, consult with your doctor or specialist.

Avoid known seizure triggers.

Always take your medication as prescribed.

Make sure your sporting companions are aware of your condition and know what to do if you have a seizure.

Let family or friends know your walking, jogging or exercise route before you leave and how long you will be out.

And don’t forget to have FUN!!!

Another article of interest: Exercise May Reduce the Risk of Epilepsy Later in Life for Men


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Copyright © 2009, Phylis Feiner Johnson. All rights reserved.



  1. Hi Phylis,

    Thank you about exercize. I exercize about one have hour a day.

    I use to walk 4 miles 3 days a week. I need to start building myself up again. Since I have not been exercizing, I cannot go “gun ho’ all at once. I am having to force myself since I am depressed.



    Comment by Ruth Brown — November 17, 2009 @ 5:17 AM

  2. But Ruth, exercising (even walking gently) raises your seratonin level and you sure could use a whole lot more seratonin in your system. You’d feel better physically AND mentally. That’s a win-win!!!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 17, 2009 @ 7:29 AM

  3. I have started. I just do not want to push myself beyond my limits at first.I did not know that it raised my seratonin level. That is in the brain, too. It would help my epilepsy.

    Thank you for the encouragement.


    Comment by Ruth Brown — November 18, 2009 @ 6:21 AM

  4. Phylis,
    I use to walk two -three miles a day 5 days a day , and sometime I’d walk more.
    I never knew it could help my epilepsy.
    I’ll try get back in it on my good days when my backs not hurting me.

    Belinda Brown


    Comment by Belinda Brown — November 22, 2009 @ 10:24 AM

  5. Hi Belinda

    You had a good exercise routine. I am sorry to hear about your back. I have a bad back too. My doctor has prescribed Tylenol w. codeine. I only take half a pill.

    I am starting to get back in my routine too. I use to walk 4 miles a day 3 days a week.

    I am sure that you love to go hiking in the mountains. I know I love to.

    Ruth Brown


    Comment by Ruth Brown — November 22, 2009 @ 10:35 AM

  6. It doesn’t matter what you do. As long as you start doing SOMETHING!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 22, 2009 @ 8:56 PM

  7. I agree, Phylis.


    Comment by Ruth Brown — November 23, 2009 @ 6:03 AM

  8. Hi Phylis,
    I had quit exercising. Why!! My doctor said that I was losing too much weight. I was sticking to my diabetes and excersise routine.

    I gave up and started gaining weight. My doctor was happy. I finally decided to start sticking to my diabetes diet and exercise. Right now, I have been exercising for 3 days. I did not quit. I feel better and I can do more things for myself.

    My husband and son were doing more and more things for me as I was weaker. I told them that I had to start doing things for myself and quit being lazy. Ruth


    Comment by Ruth Brown — January 8, 2010 @ 3:55 AM

    • It must feel good to be more independent. And it’s posssible to exercise without losing weight. Simple walking should do the trick. Or Pilates is said to be a very user-friendly form of exercise that is non strenuous but gives you a good work-out. (I’ve never tried it.)


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 8, 2010 @ 5:53 AM

  9. Hi Phylis, what did I do wrong today?

    I did my half hour of exercises that I have always done in the past. My back was in pain and I take half a codiene like you do.

    I took a nap after lunch. This evening I started having seizures. I took a Lorazepam and a clonazepam to stop my T/C’s. They were coming on. The medicine did stop it.

    I had checked my blood glucose and it was normal. I have diabetes, too. I will do low-impaact aeorbics tomorrow. Ruth


    Comment by Ruth Brown — January 8, 2010 @ 2:15 PM

  10. Good idea. I guess your body wasn’t having a very good day and was telling you to quit??? Did you do anything involving your back when you were excercizing?


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 8, 2010 @ 9:03 PM

  11. Hi
    Forgive if this gets lost in the wording but I will try.?
    I have been following this since it started making a bit of news in some college papers .
    OOps I just remembered I have read a LOT of this recent imfo. and this study with 74 patients lol lol. folks there are 50 states,plus 2 provinces and Canada ,Mexico .
    I can apreciate the fact of these links and you highlighted the study of 74 as shown and I feel it is a great study considering the amount of money it might take for hookup 24hrs to eeg and exercise.
    it was women and children the kids with intractable E. IT is still limited.
    My own findings are similar to what Phylis says
    I can only say for me and I am a LOT different than most ,due to hyper activity and just general go,go,go, attitude I had for yrs .
    I figured out though it is not the stress from the activity that caused the sz. but when coming down from the activity when the serotonin and other things collapse that the E takes hold and the brain mis fires..also caffeine has an effect at this point
    say work,work,run,run,coffee,coffee, then tired put your feet up and brain mis fires.this imfo. was entirely new to me .
    But I never noticed I was having partial szs. after work until my saw a clip on t.v. about blacking out and said “oh yeah” you do that all the time lol.
    The over heating was not the biggest factor either but the cooling off was and is a big factor for me now.
    I know now also that a fever ,heat is a major factor in E and can even lead to death and should be avoided at ALL cost so I do not understand how a marathon can be run leading to a high core temp. a quick cool down then ???? plus the meds side effects mmmmmmmm? I see a HUGE amount of people besides this small study and studies that this effects. I hope my rambling makes a bit offense. warm up slow, cool down slow,and do not over do it. R.C.


    Comment by wichitarick — January 8, 2010 @ 11:28 PM

  12. Thanks. I think that SLOW is the operative word here.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 8, 2010 @ 11:41 PM

  13. Hi Phylis,

    Any exercise I do involves my back somewhat. Whener it is walking or aerobics or other exercises.

    Hi Wichitarick,

    I agree with you, everyone is different. What one person can do, another one cannot. A slow warm-up and cool down are very important in any exercise.

    I use to walk 4 miles 3 times a week. I was very healthy during that time. I had to stop when I had pneumonia.

    I can now start up again, but I am starting with half and hour a day. When I can, I will increase it.

    You are not rambling, Wichitarick, you are stating facts that we all need. I hope you add more. If you look up this link, you will find that many fa;m;ous sports figures have epilepsy. The link is:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/list of _people_with_epilepsy

    You will have to scroll down to the sports.



    Comment by Ruth Brown — January 8, 2010 @ 11:54 PM

  14. Sorry, my link is wrong. I will try again:



    Comment by Ruth Brown — January 8, 2010 @ 11:58 PM

  15. Hi Phylis, you said that the operative word is SLOW. How slow do you mean?

    I will try that link again. Is there a way to edit a comment?

    How do I underline?

    If this does not work would you please put it in Phylis.


    Comment by Ruth Brown — January 9, 2010 @ 12:14 AM

  16. Sports figures with epilepsy link:


    You were right all along, Ruth. It just doesn’t go “live” until you hit “submit comment”. Same with edits. After you submit, there will be an “edit this” link under your name, much like they do on the EFA website.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 9, 2010 @ 12:47 AM

  17. Hello
    Yes and I am seeing now these typos are from a “cold” on this machine not my weekly gmals lol.
    You know I actually feel like telling myself to shut up at this point because as I sit here at age 47 this last 18mo,s is the slowest of my life and I am weaker now that EVER before .
    Just so I am not mis understood I HAVE read huge amounts of info. on these topics but after a while it is what I call “over lapping” information .
    I have taken around 12/13 different aed,s and am in a drug study now .
    So much Info. is very limited because of the limited research I suppose.
    I tend to use info. from college sites though and have rarely “googled” anything except pictures/images .
    I am afraid now when I warm up with a long walk that I may not make it back home.
    I understand the bad back also ,but something like 1/2 of Americans have some back issues .
    O.K. having a real memory here Lol. I have 4 or 5 lower “bulging” disks as defined by 3 doctors I even signed off on this for a insurance settlement from my employer . I just took it in stride took the money and assumed it was working to “hard” and continued working . ok
    fast forward a few yrs. I,m still having szs. and thinking about my body/mind a little more and although I was not working I was exercising and remodeling eating well sleeping o.k. and discovered the way I was twisting my body during these LONG gmals probably had a larger factor in how messed up my back was/is than the work?
    I truly can see this now because a cpl. of yrs ago I was in the hospital on 24 hr. video and had 3 gmals after about 36 postictal time they gave a brief questionnaire and asked me if my back hurt
    duh yes lol because of the way I had twisted in this series of gmals WOW a real awakening .
    I was studied some more and given pictures of my back and could see two more disks “bulging” .
    This is happening again and now my upper back is pulled . ??? whats next?
    Recently over the summer I experienced something new that I have not told to any doctors and few people .
    I think (bad habit) I dislocated my hips during gmal szs ? This serious and painful and means I can not walk for extended periods now ,I do not drive and walk with my daughter everywhere so this will be a major factor in my future? I know all the answers from the doctors so I am not wasting time or money to take more pills and sit some more, lol.
    On the topic of the exercise I used simple weights and lifted while reading for many mo,s just to maintain my arm strength I now have those silly ankle weights on just to walk around the house and yard but they pull on my knee’s ? lol
    Just so I,m understood better my placing of a laugh out loud symbol anywhere is to show especially on certain topics that I still see some of this as big bother to me and to envision my self as weak as I am in just funny .
    As phylis says I know death personally also and have most of my life so to see something like a gmal stopping me is a bit odd. Rick


    Comment by wichitarick — January 9, 2010 @ 12:51 AM

  18. Hi Rick, you say you should be quiet now. That is not so, you need to share and help us understand more. This is a support group. we need to help each other.

    I have a bad back from my seizures, too. I take codeine for the pain. You say that you fractured your hip. That is the very thing that my doctor is worried about with me. It is quite common for people with epilepsy to fracture bones. Ruth


    Comment by Ruth Brown — January 9, 2010 @ 1:08 AM

  19. I feel terrible for you Rick. My husband (6’5″) has a bad back — bulging disks, torn something-or-other + neuropathy in both legs.

    He went to every doc you can think of. But what finally did work for him was: massage, accupuncture and SWIMMING every day. However, it took him 2 years to figure this out and he’s far from ready to run a marathon!!!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 9, 2010 @ 1:09 AM

  20. Thanks in support of sharing such a nice thinking, article is nice, thats why i have
    read it completely


    Comment by chihuahua seizures — October 5, 2014 @ 10:13 AM

  21. Aerobic exercises can actually help an individual loose excess weight. It also accelerate blood circulation in the body. There are also evidence which says that aerobic exercises also uplifts the mood and mental state of a person.


    Comment by Slotnick — February 8, 2015 @ 9:23 AM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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