Is Exercise a Beneficial Treatment for Epilepsy? | Lifemoves

Light to Moderate Exercise is a Beneficial Epilepsy Treatment

Last Updated on May 3, 2021 by Alfred Ball

Is the fear of seizures preventing you from participating in physical activity? Numerous studies have proven the benefit of exercise for the treatment of epilepsy, in some cases preventing or decreasing intensity of seizures.

Research proves benefits. Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter which acts as a natural anticonvulsant. GABA is an inhibitor neurotransmitter, meaning it reduces the excitability of the neuron affected. Exercise decreases the pH of the blood, which is known as acidosis. Acidosis changes enzyme effectiveness which controls GABA metabolism, thus increasing GABA and further reducing emotions such as fear and anxiety, which trigger seizures. Adenosine, a by-product of energy metabolism and ATP utilization, also has an anticonvulsant effect (1).

To minimize the likelihood of ill effects, remember the following:

  • It is always important to consult a health care professional before starting any fitness program. Every individual is different; discuss possible seizure triggers with your doctor and how to avoid them during exercise.
  • Keep hydrated throughout your session. Always have a full water bottle for your workout and drink lots of water before and after.
  • Avoid low blood sugar with a snack or drink such as Gatorade.
  • Work hard enough to receive benefits but listen to your body and don’t work outside your comfort zone. Overexertion is never beneficial and may be a seizure trigger.
  • Make sure that you begin with a very gradual warm-up and keep the intensity light to moderate.
Avoiding physical stress on the body is a common practice for epileptics. As in any medical condition, there is limited knowledge of the effects of exercise and the possibility of ill effects is always present. Some individuals are warned that exercise may have a negative effect on seizures, perhaps even stimulating them. However, research has shown that fewer seizures occur with mental and physical activity than at rest (2).
Where do I start? Begin with minimal intensity in a variety of exercises you enjoy, but be sure to challenge yourself. This may include a walk three times a week. A friend, family member or a dog is a great addition to your routine. With each outing, slightly increase your distance or your intensity. These slight increases will add up to even greater rewards.

Participating in sports is another form of exercise that shouldn’t be off-limit to epileptics. Sport participation has been a controversial topic in the past, especially with regards to contact sports. It has been concluded by many associations, for example the American Medical Association Committee, that participation in sport is not contraindicated.

In fact, sport participation may have social and psychological benefits in addition to physical ones. Low self-confidence, feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression are common amongst individuals with epilepsy. Sport involvement helps to build relationships, aiding against depression and relieving feelings of isolation(3).

If you would like to add more structure to your fitness goals or get guidance for creating a routine specifically suited for your needs, a Lifemoves Kinesiologist can help. A program will give you a series of exercises with specifics on the number of repetitions, number of sets, and how to properly conduct the movements. Kinesiologists know how to gradually increase the difficulty of the program to increase gains, avoid plateaus and decrease the likelihood of seizures.


1. Adrida RM, Cavalheiro EA, da Silva AC, Scorza FA. Physical activity and epilepsy: proven and predicted benefits. Sports Med. 2008; 38(7): 607-15. Review PubMed PMID: 18557661

2. Arida RM, Scorza FA, Terra VC, Scorza CA, de Almeida AC, Cavalheiro EA. Physical exercise in epilepsy: what kind of stressor is it? Epilepsy Behavior. 2009 Nov; 16 (3): 381-7. Review. PubMed PMID: 19836311

3. Dubow JS, Kelly JP. Epilepsy in sports and recreation. Sports Med. 2003; 33(7): 499-516. Review. PubMed PMID: 12762826

Alfred Ball

Practicing Kinesiologist | Certified Fascia Stretch Therapist | Clinical Pilates Instructor. Alfred has been a Kinesiologist since 1999. He started Lifemoves in 2007 to provide exercise therapy and fitness programs for people with injuries, chronic diseases and disabilities. His focus as a Kinesiologist is to empower and to guide people to learn to move with more strength, confidence and ease. He is an avid Lego and Star Wars fan. His other hobbires include writing, playing board games and being active outdoors.

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