Epilepsy and Physical Activity

Doctors often find that they must prescribe physical exercise to different populations. One of these examples are epilepsy patients, as well-regulated physical activity can be very beneficial for them. In this article, learn about epilepsy and physical activity.
Epilepsy and Physical Activity

Last update: 13 October, 2020

When it comes to prescribing physical activity, different populations need special attention; patients with epilepsy are a clear example of this. Epilepsy is a disease that attacks the central nervous system and is very present in today’s society.

In today’s article, we’ll delve a little deeper into it and you’ll discover everything you need to know about epilepsy and physical activity.

What’s epilepsy?

In short, it’s a CNS disease that causes certain sporadic seizures produced by the abnormal functioning of certain neurons. Here are some of the symptoms it causes:

  • Small movement modifications.
  • Alterations in the senses.
  • Sudden muscle contractions.
  • Possible loss of consciousness.

The causes of epilepsy

We need to differentiate between two types of epilepsy:

  • Idiopathic generalized epilepsy. It doesn’t have a clear cause.
  • Secondary or symptomatic epilepsy. It can be caused by brain damage during childbirth, major head trauma, cardiovascular problems, or even an infection.

Epilepsy and physical activity

Many people probably don’t believe that physical activity can help improve epilepsy patients’ quality of life. However, the regular practice of physical exercise can help these patients better cope with the disease.

An epilepsy patient exercising.

Of course, for the results to be positive, the physical activity must be authorized by a doctor. At the same time, it must be scheduled, supervised, and guided by a sports science professional.

The benefits of physical activity for epilepsy patients

A study by Nakken shows that frequent sports practice, at least three times a week, can have aerobic and performance benefits in 45-minute sessions. In addition, including strengthening exercises or activities such as dancing can greatly reduce the risk of having seizures.

It’s important to note that, as Nakken himself shows in another of his studies, epilepsy patients who practice physical activity are less likely to have a seizure than those who don’t exercise.

Another of the main benefits is that, after physical practice, if a seizure were to occur, the seizure threshold would be higher for active patients. This means that it’s less likely for them to have a seizure.

Last but not least, these types of patients are more likely to suffer bone lesions or osteoporosis, due to the medications they take or the sedentary lifestyle they lead. Physical activity can help them. In fact, low-impact exercises will greatly prevent these types of problems.

The mechanisms that physical exercise improves in epilepsy patients

A recent scientific article indicated that practicing physical activity, or simply leading an active life, can improve certain mechanisms in these patients, such as:

  • Improved stability and motor control.
  • Decreased emotional tension, caused in many cases by medication, lack of socialization, or sedentary lifestyle. This is why the playful nature of sports is important for these patients.
  • It helps prevent possible attention or concentration deficits that the disease may cause.

Can these patients practice any sports discipline?

Unfortunately, due to the characteristics of the disease, some activities aren’t recommended for patients who suffer from this disease. Horse riding, mountain sports, outdoor swimming activities, diving, air or motorsports aren’t the most suitable for them.

A woman playing tennis.

The main reason these patients should avoid these activities is the risk of suffering a seizure while they practice them. These environments or activities don’t guarantee the patient’s safety. Nevertheless, there are many options for epileptic patients. Thus, it’s essential for them to exercise.

Conclusions

As you’ve seen, physical activity should be a fundamental tool to address epilepsy from an active and healthy lifestyle. Practicing physical practice can benefit these patients and improve their quality of life.

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  • García-Ramos, R., Pastor, A. G., Masjuan, J., Sánchez, C., & Gil, A. (2011). FEEN: Informe sociosantario FEEN sobre la epilepsia en España. Neurología, 26(9), 548-555.
  • Nakken KO, Bjorholt PG (1990): “Effect of physical training on aerobic capacity, seizure occurrence and serum level of antiepileptic drugs in adults with epilepsy”. Epilepsia Jan-Feb; 31(1):88-94
  • Nakken KO (1999). “Physical exercise in outpatients with epilepsy” EpilepsiaMay; 40(5):643-51