I have epilepsy… Is it safe to exercise?

I am often asked by people with epilepsy if it is safe for them to exercise. The answer to this question is yes. In most cases, not only is exercise safe for people with epilepsy, exercise can also be a major tool in controlling and/or decreasing seizures.

Epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder with 65 million people around the world suffering from epilepsy at any one time. Epilepsy refers to a transient disturbance of brain function that takes the form of recurring convulsive or non-convulsive seizures. Seizures can be brought on by certain situations or triggers such as lack of sleep, tiredness, stress, fatigue and illness. Anti-epileptic medication is the main form of treatment for people with epilepsy, however these medications can affect energy levels, mood and motivation. Unfortunately, up to 35% of all people with epilepsy do not fully respond to traditional medicines and report high levels of panic attacks and anxiety.

As we are aware, exercise improves overall health and wellbeing and other benefits such as, improving fitness, energy levels, mood and helps relieve stress and anxiety. A Norwegian study by Pimentel, Tojal and Morgado (2015) on individuals with epilepsy, showed that a 4-week intensive physical training programme recorded beneficial effects in mental state, self-esteem and social integration. Similar results were found in a study conducted by Nakken, Bjorholt, Johannessen, Loyning and Lind (1990) in a 12-week exercising programme developed for individuals with epilepsy. The results included improvements in mood, self-esteem and quality of life.

Exercise has shown to be beneficial for seizure control and can decrease side effects associated with anti-epileptic medication. Pimentel et al (2015) found that out of 204 participants, 36% of them had better epilepsy control due to their involvement in regular exercise. It was also revealed that participants felt exercise positively improved their health and allowed them to recover faster from a seizure.

Regular exercise often inhibits seizure activity due to a lowering of blood pH, beta-endorphin (endorphins that triggers a positive feeling in the body) release and increased mental alertness and attention, which suppresses the electrical activity in the brain. This helps individuals with epilepsy feel more in control of their health and wellbeing. It is recommended that people with epilepsy take part in both aerobic exercise and strength training. 

Aerobic exercise

  • Focus on exercises that work large muscle groups such as walking, riding, rowing or jogging.
  • Work at 60-90% of your peak work rate on 3-5 days of the week for 20 minutes at a time.
  • Start low and progressively increase the intensity and duration.

 

Strength Training

  • Focus on isotonic movements working major muscle groups.
  • Working at 60-90% of your peak work rate.
  • Start with low resistance and high repetitions.

Individuals with epilepsy involved in exercise programmes exhibit an improved mental state, become more sociable, and improve their psychosocial functioning and quality of life. So yes, exercise is safe for people with epilepsy and can have some major positive effects on seizure control and general wellbeing. We do recommend that before commencing any new exercise programme, it is always best to check with your treating doctor to ensure that you are fit to participate in exercise. We also recommend that individuals with epilepsy be supervised whist exercising and seek the guidance of an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to establish an appropriate exercise programme. For more information on how the Accredited Exercise Physiologists at Absolute Balance can help, check out the website www.absolutebalance.com.au or send us an email to info@absolutebalance.com.au

 

Tyler Hall (B.EXSportsSc, Grad.Dip.(Clin.Ex.Phys))

Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) (ESSAM)

 

References

Durstine J.L. & Moore, G.E. Exercise Management for Persons with Chronic Disease and Disabilities. American College of Sports Medicine (2003)

Nakken, K.O., Bjorholt, P.G., Johannesssen, S.I., Loyning, T & Lind, E. Effect of physical training on aerobic capacity, seizure occurrence, and serum level of antiepileptic drugs in adults with epilepsy. European Journal of Epilepsy (1990)

 

Pimentel, J., Tojal, R. & Morgado, J. Epilepsy and physical exercise, European Journal of Epilepsy (2015)

 

Vancini, R.L. & Andrade, M.S. Exercise as medicine for people with epilepsy. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sport (2016)