Exercise and epilepsy
Exercise improves fitness, energy and mood and relieves stress. Improving overall health and wellbeing in this way can help reduce seizures and the impact of epilepsy for some people. It can also help people feel more in control of their health.
Exercise releases ‘feel good’ hormones into the brain, helps to keep your muscles active, reduces fat levels in the body and increases oxygen flow to your brain. It can also increase your bone density which can help to prevent osteoporosis (where bones become fragile and are more likely to break).
Research in exercise and epilepsy
Research in the USA has shown that people with epilepsy exercise less than those without epilepsy.
A study in Norway of women with uncontrolled epilepsy, showed that regular sessions of aerobic exercise (for example running, walking, swimming, cycling) for 60 minutes, twice a week, for 15 weeks resulted in a significant reduction in the number of seizures they had. They also had fewer muscle pains, sleep problems and fatigue, and had lower cholesterol and better oxygen flow around the body.
Some specific diseases that are linked to a lack of exercise, poor diet and being overweight include cardiovascular disease (which can lead to heart attacks and strokes), type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), osteoporosis and certain cancers. A lack of exercise can also be linked to increases in depression and anxiety.
Studies show that people with epilepsy are at an increased risk of developing most of these conditions, so being active and maintaining a healthy diet can help your overall health.
Can I do exercise if I'm tired or ill?
You may not feel like doing exercise if you are tired due to seizures or because of the side effects of your medication. However, even gentle exercise can actually boost energy levels.
Some people with epilepsy may worry about doing in exercise in case they hurt themselves during a seizure. In fact, research shows that although seizures can happen during exercise, the positive effects of exercise may help to reduce seizures for some people with epilepsy.
Where do I start?
It can help to start with a short, regular session of activity that feels manageable and that becomes part of your daily routine. Some ideas to help you start and keep going with exercise include the following.
- Stretch to warm up (see below).
- Walk around the block or even around your house regularly, and gradually increase the distance.
- Do exercise to music that you enjoy.
- Drink water, diluted fruit juice or squash while you exercise, to help replace the fluids and body salts you lose.
- Do not exercise straight after a meal.
- Ask a friend to exercise with you or use a home fitness DVD. Make it as fun as possible.
- Keep a diary of how you feel after exercising.
- Give yourself credit every time you exercise – it can take determination and self-discipline.
Warming up and stretching
It is important to warm up and stretch before and after energetic activity. Stretching warms your muscles and helps prevent strain and aching. Doing a stretching routine every day can also help you develop a habit of exercising that is easier to maintain. Stretching can also help relieve stress because it releases tension from your muscles, making you feel more relaxed.
Visit the NHS website to find stretching exercises. Fitness books and DVDs will also have guides on stretching.
What types of exercise can I do?
Exercise does not have to mean joining a gym or running in the park – walking is one of the easiest and safest exercises that most people can do.
Gardening, or relaxing activities such as tai chi, are other great ways to exercise.
The key is to find the exercise that feels right for you.
Visit www.nhs.uk/change4life for help on how to make small changes and get more active.
Understanding your own epilepsy can help you decide what exercise suits you. This includes knowing what happens during your seizures, whether there is anything that triggers your seizures, and telling other people how they can help you if a seizure happens.
Walking with a friend means they can help if you have a seizure. If you walk alone, ways to help you feel safer include using well-known routes, avoiding busy roads and taking a mobile phone with you.
Some people with epilepsy choose to carry medical ID that tells other people how to help them if they have a seizure when out and about.
Swimming and other water sports can be great exercise, and can be made safer for people with epilepsy by taking the right safety measures.
Team activities and contact sports
Team sports, or group activities such as walking or gardening groups, can also be a good way of increasing self-confidence, make new friends and help with any feelings of isolation.
Most sports, including contact sports like football, hockey, basketball and rugby, have not shown to increase the chance of someone having a seizure,
but contact sports may come with an increased risk of head injuries, which could affect epilepsy for some people. Protective sports headgear helps to
reduce this risk, and there are team sports that are not likely to risk head injuries.
Telling your coach or someone on the team about your epilepsy and giving them first aid information means they can help you if you have a seizure.
Diet, energy and health
Even if you find it hard to do exercise, there are many ways that you can adapt your diet to help you to feel healthier, sleep better and have more energy. This may in turn help you feel more like doing exercise.