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We all know that exercise is good for our body. But do we really know why? Here are some ways that adding physical activity into your regular routine can help.

Improve Fitness

A regular fitness or exercise regimen can increase muscle mass, improve heart function, improve balance and coordination, increase circulation, and increase energy.

Lower Your Risk of Illness and Other Health Problems

  • Being overweight can be a problem for many people with epilepsy. Weight gain can be due to medication side effects, depression, being less active, and poor appetite or dietary habits. Other medical problems can cause weight issues too.
  • Being inactive and overweight can put people at risk for other health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, insulin resistance (problems with the way our body handles insulin), arthritis, osteoporosis or bone loss, and certain types of cancer.

Improve Sleep

  • Regular exercise can make it easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, and reach deep sleep. Be careful not to exercise too close to bedtime though or the opposite will happen - you'll have more problems with sleep!
  • Improved sleep can also lessen anxiety, depression, and the risk of breakthrough seizures.
  • Here are a few tips to sleep better:
    • Turn off all blue light (computer, phone, TV, etc.) an hour before bed.
    • No caffeine after noon.
    • No naps. Avoid sleep when the sun is up.
    • Wake at the same time every morning, and do something active in the light.
    • Allow at least an 8-hour window for sleep.
    • Keep room temperature cooler.
    • Make room as dark as possible. Invest in black out shades. Cover lights from alarm clocks, phones, smoke detectors, etc.
    • Don't drink alcohol. Alcohol effects the body's ability to reach deep sleep.
    • Develop a bedtime ritual that prepares your body for sleep.
    • Find more information and tips about sleep and epilepsy.

Improve Mood and Reduce Anxiety and Depression

  • Some people with epilepsy may also have problems with depression, anxiety, or other changes in mood.
  • Changes in substances in the brain, called neurotransmitters, are found in mood disorders and epilepsy. Some examples of these neurotransmitters are serotonin (involved with mood balance), noradrenaline (known as the fight-or-flight hormone), dopamine (responsible for feeling pleasure and pain), and GABA (helps control fear and anxiety). Some people who struggle with depression and anxiety may be familiar with these terms.
  • A regular exercise program can influence how these neurotransmitters work. As a result, mood may improve and people may be less anxious or depressed.
  • Studies show that active people living with epilepsy have significantly lower levels of depression than those who are inactive. For example:
  • Depression can impact a person's ability to work, function in social settings, have a stable family, deal with change (including changes in medication and treatments), and handle the fear and misunderstanding that can come with epilepsy. By adding a regular exercise routine to your life, you may increase your chances to succeed in these arenas as well.
  • Paying attention to mood and fitness is critical for children too. According to a study published in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior, 2 out of 3 children in the study with epilepsy report signs and symptoms of depression. The study also found children report more concerns about anxiety and depression than their parents observe.

Increase Social Activity and Self-Confidence

Whether you join a gym, meet friends for a walk, or take a group exercise class, you are putting yourself in a social setting. These social activities and support can improve your self-esteem and confidence.

Reduce Stress

  • Our lives are filled with stressors. Stress is a common seizure trigger for many people with epilepsy. Exercise can reduce stress in people when it's done properly.
  • The hormone cortisol is often called the “stress hormone.” Cortisol levels in the body increase when we feel stressed. When cortisol levels are constantly high, our body starts to gain weight around the waist.
  • During exercise you actually want your cortisol levels to be high because it will improve the body's ability to burn fat and reduce pain. Yet, it's not good if your body remains in a state of constant stress.
  • Exercise, however, can help improve your overall hormone balance and cortisol function. The best form of exercise for this is resistance/weight training and interval/high intensity training. Just keeping active during the day is important too!

Improve Quality of Life

A study presented in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior reported on the general and mental health benefits of exercise, as well as how exercise may improve seizure control. The researchers conclude that people living with epilepsy should be encouraged to exercise and supported in these efforts by their caregivers and health care team.

Authored By: 
Jenny LaBaw
Reviewed By: 
David Taplinger MD
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Wednesday, February 8, 2017