Exercise is good for everyone, but it has special important benefits for people with epilepsy. Research in the US 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 or aerobic exercise 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 lower cholesterol and better oxygen flow around the body. Epilepsy is a disorder of brain function that takes the form of recurring seizures. Our thoughts, feelings and actions are controlled by brain cells that communicate with each other through regular electrical impulses. A seizure occurs when sudden, uncontrolled bursts of electrical activity disrupt this regular pattern. The electrical impulses may misfire due to neurochemical disorders. This can be confined to just one part of the brain or it can occur right across the brain. Communication between cells becomes scrambled and our thoughts, feelings or movements become momentarily confused or uncontrolled.
Symptoms depend on the area of the brain affected, but may include a loss of consciousness, changes in muscle tone and sensor disturbances. Symptoms may last for seconds or minutes. Different types of seizures will affect people in varying ways, depending on where in the brain the seizure is occurring and what functions that part of the brain controls. Seizures can disrupt any function the brain controls – movement, thoughts, sensations, behavior, and the person’s level of consciousness. People with epilepsy and their families are commonly concerned about seizures during exercise.
This fear often results in over protection, feelings of isolation and needless restrictions on activity. Seizures during exercise are rare. If fact, regular exercise inhibits seizure activity! Appropriate exercise can help you maintain a healthy body weight, boost immunity, reduce stress, sleep better and feel more energized. It is important to understand how exercise affects both epilepsy and seizures, and what to do if a seizure occurs. In many cases, a seizure occurs suddenly and without warning, so a person with epilepsy needs to make sure their exercise and sporting activities are as safe as possible at all times.
To get started in an appropriate program follow these guidelines:
• Check with your neurologist.
• Start with short, regular sessions of activity (10 to 15 minutes) that feel manageable and that become part of your everyday routine.
• Gradually increase the time and intensity of the activity.
• Choose activities that you enjoy.
• Choose large-muscle activities, such as walking, biking, rowing or jogging.
• At least two days per week, follow a strength-training program with one to three sets for
the major muscle groups, with 10 to 15 repetitions.
There are some general safety issues with epilepsy:
• Avoid known seizure triggers.
• Always take your medications as prescribed and have an adequate supply available.
• Stay well-hydrated.
• Don’t continue exercising if you feel faint, lightheaded, nauseous.
• Don’t overexert – know your limits.
• Make sure your coach or workout partners are aware of your condition and know what to do if you have a seizure.
• Always wear a life jacket when involved in water sports.
• Avoid boxing, swimming under water, soccer, bungee –jumping, hang-gliding, skydiving,
high altitude activities, motor sports, horseback riding, gymnastics, hockey, skiing.