Exercising when you have epilepsy
When done safely, having a regular exercise routine allows for a healthy and balanced life.If you have epilepsy, you may worry about the safety of sports and exercise. While it's true that some activities could be risky—particularly if your seizures aren't controlled—exercise in general is safe and healthy for people with epilepsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How exercise helps epilepsy
For the vast majority of people with epilepsy, exercise offers more benefits than risks. According to the Epilepsy Foundation (EF), these benefits include:
Weight management. One possible side effect of epilepsy medications is weight gain. Exercise can help you control your weight and better manage this common side effect.
Better sleep. Getting enough rest can help reduce your risk of breakthrough seizures. It can also ease anxiety and depression. To improve your sleep, exercise earlier in the day as opposed to later at night. Exercising too close to bedtime could actually interfere with sleep.
Reduced anxiety and depression. Living with epilepsy can be challenging. As a result, it's not unusual for people with the condition to experience bouts of depression, anxiety or other changes in mood. Exercise can help you overcome those feelings and better regulate your overall sense of well-being and happiness.
Reduced stress. Stress is a common trigger for seizures. A good fitness plan can reduce your stress and, in turn, improve your control over seizures.
Ways to stay safe
It's important to remember that exercise rarely triggers seizures, and most sports—like basketball, volleyball or tennis—are fine for people with epilepsy. Still, it doesn't hurt to play it safe with these tips from the EF:
Take necessary precautions. Some sports are riskier than others for people with epilepsy. But with a few precautions, you may still be able to enjoy those activities.
For instance, water sports—such as snorkeling, jet-ski riding and sailing—are considered risky. If you choose to participate in a water-based activity, always wear a life jacket, and be sure at least one person is observing you at all times while you're near or in the water. That person should also know basic lifesaving techniques. Swimming can be safe for people with epilepsy, but you shouldn't do it alone either.
Wear a helmet if you play any type of contact sport or when there is any risk of falling and hitting your head, like when riding a bike or skateboard.
You should avoid activities like skydiving, rock climbing, scuba diving and hang gliding if your seizures are not well controlled. These activities require lots of focus and concentration, and any loss of consciousness can be dangerous.
Use the buddy system. Consider asking a friend to exercise with you in case you experience a seizure. This is especially important when using exercise equipment like weights or a treadmill or when riding a bike. No matter what type of activity, it always helps to have someone look out for your safety.
Stay cool. It's important to hydrate well, as heat can trigger seizures. Save your most challenging activities for the coolest part of the day.
Always wear a MedicAlert bracelet or necklace while exercising. This will help people know how to respond or what to tell a 911 operator if you have a seizure.
For more information on how to live well with epilepsy, visit our epilepsy topic center.