Epilepsy Talk

Epilepsy and Exercise | September 24, 2020

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. I can vouche for that exercise is beneficial. I have uncontrollable grandmal seizures. Many of my seizures are brought on by stress. I find running is a release of stress for me. I feel better about myself after as well. The positivity hhelps so much. That positive accomplishment better me. It’s not stressful to compete with myself. I’m not racing anyone. Just a jog to relief everyday battles in life. And the fresh air the releasing. As every step I take leaves a bit of stress behind.
    I alway do yoga. It keeps me limber and in shape. Instead of the pulled muscles I would endure after a grandmal seizure. And Yoga is a form of meditation. As our minds race with anxiety and fear through COVID, I step away mentally to a positive place in my mind.
    To each their own. I respect all opinions. But, for myself, I find I relieving.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Jessica Desnoyers — September 24, 2020 @ 10:06 AM

    • Good for you! I do a fast walk (too old to jog anymore) and as I move and focus on my surroundings, I feel a release and relief.

      I’m a stranger to yoga, but my mother-in-law did yoga until she was 90! So, as you say, it has no boundaries.

      Twice a week work-outs are part of my routine.

      But, as I read about your accounts, I really feel like a slug. 🙂


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 24, 2020 @ 10:19 AM

  2. I’m living proof that exercise can be beneficial In many ways for those of us with epilepsy. Phyllis, take a look at the book “Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra.”
    The inventor has epilepsy!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Lisa — September 24, 2020 @ 11:19 AM

  3. The website loveyourbrain.com, with which I am not affiliated, offers yoga information for people with traumatic brain injury.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by HoDo — September 24, 2020 @ 11:19 AM

  4. And please, this year, EXERCISE YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE! Your vote is your voice and your power!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by HoDo — September 24, 2020 @ 11:29 AM

    • THAT is the best and most important kind of exercise you can do now. For yourself and for everyone in your country.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 24, 2020 @ 11:31 AM

  5. I take a handful of pills at night since my seizures only come in my sleep. I take one pill in the morning. But my “drugs of choice” are coffee in the morning and running in the afternoon. Just getting out of the house for 30 to 40 minutes in the afternoon to run and breathe in fresh air reduces my stress and keeps me in decent physical shape. (And it keeps my belt at the same length.) I do basic, common sense stuff to participate in a run – hydrate and dress for the heat or cold. I’ve been running since I was in cross country as a teenager but go about it now in my fifties a lot slower. And that’s ok by me.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by George Choyce — September 24, 2020 @ 11:42 AM

  6. At 67, I don’t even think I could match your “slower” pace!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 24, 2020 @ 11:54 AM

  7. Phylis, first of all, I totally agree with the suggestion of exercise but I wanted to point out a funny part. You mention using an exercise bike. That was one of the things they had me do to make me have seizures when I had my VEEG. Only after the ride, they had me hyperventilate for five minutes. 😅

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Ed Lugge — September 24, 2020 @ 12:57 PM

    • Hyperventilation — sometimes in a stressful situation, it’s the body’s way of saying there is confusion in the brain and it just doesn’t know where to turn.

      Oxygen is not getting to your brain and the hyperventilation expends vast amounts of energy.

      You could be in shock and this is where it is difficult to tell whether it is a response from an over-stimulated brain or a true seizure.

      But you could go on to have an epileptic seizure following the stress and lack of oxygen. (For a long time, hyperventilation has been used as a means to provoke seizures.)

      It’s often used to trigger epileptiform discharges and/or seizures during EEGs.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 24, 2020 @ 1:41 PM

  8. One of the other nice “side effects” of exercise that also helps with epilepsy is better sleep.
    I never climbed Everest but I did climb Mt Kilimangaro a few years back. Even in a sleeping bag in a tent I slept like a log every night on the trail.
    Just getting out for some fresh air and Vitamin D exposure can help your sleep too. Doesn’t have to be a marathon. Just walk around the neighborhood.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by paleobird — September 24, 2020 @ 12:59 PM

    • Mt Kilimangaro! OMG. YOU cold teach us a few tricks!

      Here’s what I found: Increasing your oxygenation levels and being fit and healthy has shown to be important for your health as optimum oxygen levels can improve wound healing, vision, mental clarity and intelligence, boost your immune system, help fight cancer cells, reduce stress levels, improve your heart and respiration and help you to lose weight. https://www.oxygenworldwide.com/news/articles-and-information/662-general-benefits-of-oxygen.html


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 24, 2020 @ 1:49 PM

      • Yes, increasing your oxygen capacity is part of training for mountain climbing where the air is thin. The best way is what is called HIIT workouts (High Intensity Interval Training). It is basically do any exercise to your flat out max like run as fast as you can for a block or two until you are really “sucking wind”. Then rest and repeat. You could also do it with an exercise bike or a treadmill or just walk really fast up a hill.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by paleobird — September 24, 2020 @ 1:59 PM

  9. Damnit I was hoping you were going to say it’s bad for people with seizures 😖😖

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Hetty Eliot — September 24, 2020 @ 1:20 PM

  10. If you are going for a walk or jog, wear your medical alert bracelet. You do have one, right?

    Other possibilities for exercise: ping pong; tai chi, chi gung, other “lite” martial arts (bagua). Even aikido is not out of the question if the Sensei (teacher) is knowledgeable.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by HoDo — September 24, 2020 @ 2:24 PM

  11. Great subject Phylis! I am convinced from personal experience that exercise can help many (though not all) people deal with depression, lethargy, some types of epilepsy, weight control, and so on IF it is combined with common sense, calorie control, proper hydration and attention to any resulting aches and pains. And by common sense I mean warming up, gradually increasing effort and duration over a period of time, and monitoring progress against predetermined goals.

    In my case, about five years ago at the age of 75 I took up cycling using a recumbent tricycle – which is safer than a two wheeler. I started by cycling a few miles a few days a week and now I do on average about 230 miles a month (on a bike trail not on roads!) My goal? … to cycle a distance equivalent to a marathon in one day for no real reason! Haven’t quite made it yet though. I have met many physically and mentally handicapped cyclists on the trail but as yet I haven’t met anyone actually admitting to suffering from epilepsy. However, just about everyone I talk with sings the praises of cycling as a healthy activity and as protection against “COVID fear related depression.”

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Michael H — September 24, 2020 @ 4:35 PM

    • Wow! What an achievement and what great advice!

      I’m ashamed to say that I’m 67 and haven’t thought about anything as ambitious as you.

      But you’re testimony to what can happen if you want it to, no matter what your age.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 24, 2020 @ 4:44 PM

    • Congratulations Michael, You came a long way from a starter to successful achiever, proving the timeless wisdom “if there’s a will, there’s a way” to achieve your dreams.
      At 75, many of us would have thought of giving up the streets to our grandchildren & stayed out of the way but you choose to engage the passage of time & challenge the physical restraints to turn the clock back to your youthful years & race against time for healthy lifestyle.
      You’re impressive man & should write a book about your experience for millions of people to encourage & follow your footsteps for change into better & healthy lifestyle.
      Best wishes!

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Gerrie — September 25, 2020 @ 12:47 PM

      • Gerrie, thank you for your kind words. I am blushing with embarrassment! There are so many truly inspirational stories in print and on the web (including this site) that my story, a giant step for me a minuscule step for mankind, can remain unpublished! I read a book recently about a young drug addict who nearly died of an overdose on several occasions. She decided to preoccupy her self with ultra-marathons (100 miles plus) as an alternative to drugs. She went cold turkey, gradually built up her distances and became a world class athlete. We don’t have to be that extreme but as humans we have wonderful hidden abilities and strengths… if we can only harness them! A neurologist cyclist friend told me that I am hooked on the rush of neurotransmitters released by cycling, Probably… but the side effects are great…which cannot be side of my daily Dilantin!

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by Michael H — September 25, 2020 @ 1:36 PM

  12. For me the best and most fulfilling exercise has been working outside. Planting a garden, a tree, raking leaves, pruning, watching things sprout and grow. You can do it anywhere, too, in a backyard or on an apartment balcony. You just need to watch out for getting overheated, obviously.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by skolly9 — September 24, 2020 @ 9:23 PM

    • Gardening is such great exercise. And what a terrific payout! Beauty for all your efforts. (Along with some weeds. But every rose has its thorns.)


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 25, 2020 @ 8:03 AM

  13. I have epilepsy, sleep apnea, and was born with a club foot which Shriners Hospital straightened out the best they could when I was 5. I am 68 now so running is a dream but I can walk a couple miles max without incurring too much pain. Before Covid 19 I went to the gym and lifted weights and did core exercises for about an hour. I also take about 5 anti-seizure meds and have had very positive results with a Vagus Nerve Stimulator inserted underneath my chest skin close to the shoulder. I will be seizure free for 4 years in December. But I digress, I learned from the C-PAP doctor that 60% of seizures happen at night time. So if you snore go get a sleep test done for sleep apnea because the machine you get will guarantee that you have the correct and continuous amount of oxygen going to your brain when sleeping. It took me about 60 years to figure out my triggers; take meds, don’t over do work both physically and having your nose in a computer screen, don’t get hot, stay away from alcohol, don’t over do caffeine or any stimulants, and keep your sleep schedule as consistent as possible. Then you too can have as an exciting life as I do. 🙂 Best of luck, Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Tom Burke — September 25, 2020 @ 1:40 PM

  14. Exercise has always proven to be beneficial… its just that the level of toughness and type of exercises need to be chosen accordingly

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Deepika Dhaka — October 12, 2020 @ 7:29 AM

  15. I saw a P90X commercial this morning and was annoyed that they said the workouts could be done in “about an hour a day”. If you actually do the “Ab Ripper X” on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday like you are supposed to it’s an hour and a half. https://bit.ly/2V3cF88 Yoga is an hour and a half too, which leaves only 2 out of the 6 days that are actually “about an hour”

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by dietsandweightlos — November 25, 2020 @ 2:32 AM

    • Maybe they were trying to lure beginners, trying to assure them that it didn’t take so much time out of their day???


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 25, 2020 @ 8:29 AM

    • Just my opinion – P90X is pretty expensive not worth it. You can buy resistance bands and a bar (if you need it for some exercises) from Amazon and it’s just as good and a lot cheaper. There are tons on videos – you can search on Google that show how to workout with bands.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by prasadmok — February 24, 2021 @ 12:10 PM

  16. I was a powerlifter before I got hit with epilepsy. I still do heavy lifting – not as much as before. I do have seizures at times. Guess I want to get back to my lifting days so I push myself harder every time. I always have a workout partner when I workout so he can help me out when I have Seizures during Squats.

    When I workout with lighter weights I don’t have Seizures. I alternate between lifting and stationary bike. Never have a Seizure when I bike. I do believe working out not only helps with bone density but also gets you the high and not be depressed. As others mentioned helps you sleep better as well.

    Due to Coronavirus I don’t work out with a partner/lift weights but use bands instead to work out.

    Folks who don’t want to use weights can look into bands if you are working alone which are safer and just as good.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by prasadmok — February 24, 2021 @ 11:24 AM

  17. As you said: aerobic excise is a must. I also use bands and do core exercises on the floor.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 24, 2021 @ 11:29 AM

  18. One way to prevent over exertion is to monitor your heart rate. When cycling I use a $49 smart watch from Amazon. I got my target heart rate from :


    In my case (age over 70, actually 81) My theoretical maximum heart rate is 150 and the given target range is 75 to 125 bps (heartbeats per minute.) Because I am training for endurance and cardiovascular fitness not speed, I cycle from one to two hours five or more times weekly and try to get my BPS up to 100 but rarely more.
    That is not truly aerobic but at 125 which would be really aerobic I would get exhausted and that leads to attacks.

    Also, since I live in Florida it is often very hot and that too can lead to heat exhaustion not to mention dehydration. Florida is flat which is great for antiquated cyclists BUT it can also be windy. Winds over 15 mph are as challenging as hills.

    The key is to find a form of exercise you enjoy. I had always hated exercise, thank goodness I discovered recumbent trikes before I became a lumpy couch potato!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by MICHAEL H — February 24, 2021 @ 5:08 PM

  19. Lazy me is getting exhausted listening to you!

    My husband uses a recumbent trike because of specific spinal problems. I’m ashamed to say, I use nothing.

    You probably put us all to shame!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 24, 2021 @ 5:55 PM

    • I’m too tired from my meds that I spend most of my day on the couch! I used to be very active. Have tried different meds and have talked to my Neurologist about it. Nothing helps. Would love some suggestions!

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Annabelle — July 2, 2021 @ 1:54 AM

      • Yoga and Tai Chi are terrific ways to exercise, meditate and achieve balance. Also, you might consider Pilates.

        Yoga is a systematic practice of physical exercise, breath control, relaxation, diet control, positive thinking and meditation aimed at developing harmony in the body, mind, and environment. The practice entails low-impact physical activity, postures (called asanas), breathing techniques, relaxation, and meditation.

        Originally developed for self-defense, Tai Chi has evolved into a graceful form of exercise that’s now used for stress reduction and a variety of other health conditions. Often described as meditation in motion, Tai Chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements.

        Pilates is a method of exercise that consists of low-impact flexibility and muscular strength and endurance movements. Pilates emphasizes proper postural alignment, core strength and muscle balance.

        I hope this helps.


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 2, 2021 @ 9:35 AM

      • After you’ve become proficient in standard tai chi, you can move up to the self-defense aspect, with or without weapons. The formal “combat” is beautiful to watch. Not easy to find a teacher, though.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by HoDo — July 2, 2021 @ 10:46 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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