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Epilepsy – Benefits of Exercise

November 17, 2021


The topic of exercise in people with epilepsy can be a complicated one. The reality is that exercise is great for the brain. The body is designed to move in all types of ways, and at the helm of that is the brain. It’s not just the impact that the brain has on the body’s ability to exercise, it’s also about the impact that regular exercise has on the brain. Exercise allows for the brain to make new neurons and connections. It allows the brain to heal and thrive. Potentially, there are seizure precipitating factors that can exist in exercise. Hyperventilation can trigger seizures. We use it to trigger epileptiform activity when patients are doing EEGs. Exercise can cause mental and physical stress and we know that stress is a seizure trigger. And of course, as a neurologist, I can’t endorse getting hit in the head like in boxing or even doing headers in soccer. Also, exercise can potentially increase metabolism and that means it can potentially increase the breakdown of certain medications. And if we think about the higher risk activities, such as skydiving, motor sports or scuba diving, these are probably things that people with epilepsy shouldn’t be doing. I will tell you from experience, I have rarely ever heard anyone say that they’ve had a seizure while exercising. In fact, I’ve had more patients tell me that because of regular exercise, they feel they have less seizures, which makes sense. Exercise is the best thing anyone could do for their physical, neurological and mental health. It reduces the loss of brain cells and neuronal damage. It’s the biggest promoter of neuro-plasticity inducing neurogenesis and synaptogenesis, and among other things, exercise alleviates stress. My general philosophy when it comes to talking to someone with epilepsy about exercise is that I take a personalized approach. When someone is having frequent seizures and their epilepsy is not well controlled, this may not be the time to start an exercise program. For someone who is doing well from a seizure frequency perspective, exercise can add a significant amount of value to their lives and even further decrease the seizure frequency. But I still probably wouldn’t advise the higher risk sports and activities like boxing, horseback, riding, scuba diving, or even snorkeling.

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