Staying Safe With Exercise and Sports



Being active and exercising, in recreational activities or sports can improve mental, emotional and physical health. It’s important for everyone and should be encouraged for people with epilepsy. Sometimes people don’t exercise or play sports for fear that it could worsen seizures or lead to injuries. Yet, consider the following...

  • Very rarely, exercise is a trigger for seizure activity. For the vast majority of people with epilepsy, the benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks.
  • Recent research is showing that exercise and being physically fit may lessen risks of seizures! Stay tuned as more research is done in this area!
  • Common sense dictates that certain activities may need special accommodations or should be avoided.
  • Most sports are safe for people with epilepsy to do, even if seizures aren’t fully controlled. However, the greater and more severe a person’s seizures, the greater the need for that person to limit or modify athletic activities.
  • Using some simple safety precautions can help people stay active. For example,
    • A woman with complex partial seizures enjoyed downhill skiing and just made sure she skied with her husband and used beginner or intermediate trails. People with frequent seizures or at risk for falls could use a harness on a ski lift.
    • A man with rare tonic-clonic seizures roller blades every weekend and stays safe by wearing a helmet and knee and elbow pads. Even people without seizures should wear protective gear with many activities like this!
  • Even if some activities need to be avoided, there are plenty of ways for people to stay active and exercise!

Water Sport Safety: Water sports, including swimming, snorkeling, jet-ski riding, windsurfing, and sailing, are risky for people with epilepsy, but with a few accommodations they may be safely pursued by some people.

  • Always have a buddy with swimming or water sports.
  • At least one person in the activity or observing it should be aware of the possibility of seizures and know basic life-saving techniques.
  • Always wear a high-quality, properly fitted life vest when near the water.
  • Always wear a MedicAlert bracelet or necklace!

Contact sports such as football, rugby, basketball, soccer, and ice hockey are generally safe for people with seizures. People may worry about the chance of head or bodily injury, which is common in these sports. The risk of concussions has also become a hot topic with some contact sports lately. A few thoughts about contact sports…

  • People with epilepsy have no greater chance for injury during these sports than people without epilepsy. The chances of serious injury are small compared with the positive effects of team participation.
  • Repeated concussions aren’t good for anyone. Someone with seizures who has had other concussions, should talk to their doctor first.
  • Consider the type and frequency of seizures when thinking about these sports. What would happen if you had a seizure while playing football, hockey or soccer?
  • Talk to your doctor about your risks and for individual advice.
  • Wear the right protective gear for each sport.

Most individuals with epilepsy can safely exercise in a gym, use exercise equipment, and do other types of exercise. A few thoughts…

  • For those who have uncontrolled seizures, use a buddy system, especially when using equipment such as weights or bike riding.
  • When riding a bike, avoid busy streets. Try bike paths or quiet residential streets instead. Don’t forget the helmet!
  • Walking is even easier and doesn’t cost anything. Use the same ideas – avoid busy streets and walk with a buddy.
  • Avoid using a treadmill alone because falling can lead to major injuries. It's better to run outside or on a track.
  • Start small and don’t tackle long periods of exercise right away!
  • Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of fluids.
  • If you tire easily, exercise in small amounts. Even 15 to 20 minutes at a time helps!
  • Always wear a MedicAlert bracelet or necklace and carry a MedicAlert card!
  • Look at seizure alert systems that are being developed. Using one with GPS locator is a great idea in case you have a seizure and need help.
  • A cell phone with GPS locator can help people find you too! Program emergency numbers and key family members or contacts into your phone!
  • People with uncontrolled seizures should avoid dangerous activities like scuba diving, rock climbing, skydiving, hang gliding, and mountain climbing.
  • These sports require full concentration, and any episode of loss of consciousness may lead to injury and possible death.

Recreational activities are very important for socializing and happiness too. Finding the balance between a safe life and an active life is possible! Thinking ahead and making a few changes is all that’s needed to stay active!

Authored By:

Joseph I. Sirven MD
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Steven C Schachter, MD

on Sunday, September 08, 2013
on Wednesday, November 06, 2013


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