Epilepsy Talk

Epilepsy and Exercise | September 7, 2017

Many people with epilepsy, especially those with uncontrolled seizures, live a sedentary life and have low physical fitness.

Because they’ve been told that exercise can trigger seizures. 

Not necessarily so. At least for a large population of those with epilepsy.

Clinical and experimental studies have analyzed the effect of physical exercise on epilepsy.

The result? Exercise can be beneficial.

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.

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: 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.

Do NOT exercise alone.

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

If you are going for a walk or jog, let family or friends know your 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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  1. Weakness is just one of the many side effects Keppra and Lamictal have caused for a long period of time. Ongoing weakness makes it very painful to walk due to poor posture from the weakness. I am presently starting to go off of the
    Keppra, but as many years as I have taken it, and the time developing of the weakness, I wonder how long it will be until I no longer have the weakness and will have good ability to walk distances again?


    Comment by Karen — September 7, 2017 @ 6:05 PM

  2. Great article! I was never able to do PE as a child in school without having a spell. It took time to figure out that high heart rate(heavy breathing) is a major trigger for me. Gym’s and being skinny were just not on my life’s adgenda. So walking and loving the way I look is right for me.


    Comment by Sandra Mendenhall Anderson — September 7, 2017 @ 7:26 PM

  3. I think my Epilepsy is a reason I exercise so much.
    I go for 4-5 walks a week, about 10km each. I have never driven. Yes, you could say there is a risk of a seizure while walking, but if you are happy/ enjoying yourself, the seizures are less likely to happen. Thats what I feel with me anyway.


    Comment by brycerae — September 7, 2017 @ 7:54 PM

  4. We seem to have 2 votes for walking here. Add mine for a third.

    For me, it’s a form of meditation, going out of myself, being mindful of other things.

    I think, the exercise is a bonus. Feel good, look good. Life is good.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 7, 2017 @ 9:19 PM

  5. I’ve had craniotomy induced complex seizures for 12 years. My Rx is trileptal. After having my second seizure while mtn biking I tasked myself to solve a problem that was causeing the loss of a lifelong activity.

    Low sodium levels from rigorous activity in combo with a drug that causes rapid sodium consumption. The trileptol works as long as I supplement with simple salt pills. I ensure my urine stays yellow and it’s smooth sailing.

    I rode 1200+ miles last month through MT, WA and OR. No seizures!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    Comment by Andrew Plant — September 7, 2017 @ 10:20 PM

  6. My seizure alert dog is also a great walking companion and a good motivator to get out there when, left to my own devices, I might slack off.
    I definitely feel better when I am exercising regularly.


    Comment by paleobird — September 7, 2017 @ 11:30 PM

  7. In 2001 I had a severe brain injury which resulted in epilepsy, mine are controlled but I have been running for the last 10 yrs or so. I started slowly, but I can tell you it’s the best de-stressor around. I run about 3 miles 2 – 4 times a week and walk the other days. I know I am lucky to be able to do this, but I do think it has helped me.


    Comment by ti808 — September 8, 2017 @ 10:51 AM

  8. All of my life, I have had epilepsy. All of these years, I have exercised. In the 1960s and 1970s. I did have seizures, many times when I was hiking or biking. In 1981, I moved to CO, from IL. I was still having a large amount of seizures. I’m still in CO, but my number of seizures has gone down drastically. Starting in 2007, a physical workout gym moved to town. I joined it right of way. That has helped me greatly, mainly because that takes stress out of the brain, that takes seizures out of me. Years ago, my doctor told me that exercising must give me more seizures. I told him that he was totally wrong. One big difference in the number of seizures, is that I used to have 2-3 seizures per week, with my not feeling any type of warning. Starting in 2014, I changed my eating habits. My changes went to gluten-free food and no dairy. Since this change, along with my physical exercising, I have a warning of having only 1 seizure per 50 days.


    Comment by William H Whittemore — September 10, 2017 @ 3:00 PM

    • Good for you! I like what you said about exercising taking “stress out of the brain, that takes seizures out of me.” An excellent explanation.

      And your dedication to eating right certainly has contributed to your (virtually) healthy state.

      Hats off to you and your perseverance.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 10, 2017 @ 3:06 PM

  9. You say to “Not sail the Bahamas” … because of epiepsy? Come on. It was such a pleasure, I don’t think I had a single incident.
    Now, at home, w stress? yes. So Id like to not do “home w stress…” Good luck on that…


    Comment by Steve — October 12, 2017 @ 10:41 PM

  10. Our bodies were made to move. We cannot avoid it, completely. But the word, “Exercise?” Yuck! I go by the *Nike Shoes: “Just Do It!”
    What works for me? I’m a photo fanatic. So wherever I go, I take my tiny camera with me. *Good protection, too. People are scared of a camera! Better than a gun.

    I love going out to one particular shopping center my husband sometimes drops me off at. During Spring and Summer months, I have gotten some beautiful, cloud pictures. Some have Rainbow Colors! *The mind needs to keep busy on other things.
    Not long ago, we had a *SUPER Moon for 2 days! Yep. I was taking pictures. The second night, I was at shopping center “clicking away!” Now, I’m into taking Christmas Holiday Decorations. All this *walking adds up.
    Later, I may visit the kitties in a pet store. Watch dogs get a bath. Talk to other people. Even treat myself to something at *Starbucks. I watch my food intake, also. Eat one meal a day plus a snack at night. Gluten Free Bread for me whenever possible. One slice is plenty. Today, I splurged with two slices.


    Comment by Effie — December 11, 2017 @ 7:50 PM

  11. *Correction. Nike Shoes *Motto. Thanks!


    Comment by Effie — December 11, 2017 @ 7:53 PM

  12. To the author- what’s wrong with a treadmill? Nothing gives me the same intensity as running inclined sprints. I love the high. That said, I’ve had four seizures starting at the age of 44, all during or immediately after exercise. Though I was only running two of those four times.


    Comment by NH — March 14, 2018 @ 11:58 PM

    • My problem with a treadmill (which I used to use) is balance.

      I’ve fallen off several times, so I gave up. 😦

      I do walk, though.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 15, 2018 @ 8:52 AM

  13. Phylis Feiner Johnson, you told me that your birthday would be #65. I hope that it was a lot of fun for you. Another thing I hope is that you get to have many more! How was your celebration, if you don’t mind my asking?


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — July 26, 2018 @ 9:01 AM

  14. I am glad to hear it.


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — July 26, 2018 @ 12:54 PM

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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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    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.

    View Full Profile →

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