Exercise and sports are important for many people with epilepsy. It is important to remember that once off accidents can happen to anyone. If a seizure occurs during an activity, this does not have to mean that the person must stop the activity. It is often better to try find a way to support the person continue the activity safely.
Adults and children with epilepsy should be included in the full range of low risk team sports and activities, if it is safe for them. Blanket restrictions aren’t helpful and may even be based on outdated ideas. Simply knowing that a person has epilepsy isn’t enough reason to prevent them taking part in an activity. Decisions need to be taken on a case by case basis based on knowledge of the person’s seizures, being informed about the risks and advice from their doctor.
Exercise and sport can benefit everyone and most activities are open to people with epilepsy. If you aren’t sure about any activity think about what risks it could pose and whether there are ways of adapting those to allow you take part. The list of activities below, are those that we are most often asked about. Some anxiety is normal where seizures may happen, but sensible steps can go a long way towards making many activities safe.
Our 'Safety and Seizures' booklet - which is available to read and download on our website - contains a "Seizure Wheel" which can you understand your seizures and think about any activity you might wish to do. The main things to consider are how well controlled your seizures are, what happens during them and what the activity involves. Our Community Resource Officers are there for you to contact should you wish to discuss further, or if your club or teammates need further information about epilepsy as a whole. You can find their details by visiting the 'Our Local Service' section of our website.
If your seizures are controlled there should be no increased risk. Many people who have epilepsy may cycle when they are off the road from driving but if your seizures are frequent you may need to take your doctor’s advice about continuing to cycle. Busy roads present obvious risks and a helmet is essential to reduce risk of head injury.
Normal hard riding hats should be worn by all riders. The temperament of the horse can affect how they respond to sudden events. If your seizures are poorly controlled a doctor's opinion is advisable.
Boxing, Field and Contact Sports
Boxing is generally not advised due to the risks from blows to the head. If you are long term seizure free this may be reviewed. Field and contact sports involving possible injury to the head need assessment for each individual by your doctor or specialist. Soccer, hockey, volley ball, basketball, golf, rounders, etc are normally low risk but where there are concerns about injuries to the head protective headwear should be worn. High impact sports like rugby, karting, kickboxing and hurling should be assessed on an individual basis.
Rock climbing and mountain climbing pose risks for someone with uncontrolled seizures. A medical opinion is essential in such cases. Sailing and canoeing require competent supervision. It’s not recommended to sail alone and always wear a life jacket.
Gyms, Yoga and Meditation
Many people with epilepsy use gyms safely but it is important to let staff know you have epilepsy. Choose activities and equipment that will pose least risk and pace yourself to avoid extreme training. Gentle yoga and Mindfulness meditation can be helpful.
There is no reason why people with epilepsy shouldn’t swim as long as they take certain precautions. Consider the degree to which your seizures are controlled and whether you get a warning of a seizure. Consider any trigger factors for you which might be likely to occur while swimming, such as dappled light on water for a photosensitive person.
Never swim alone but with a lifeguard present, or a companion who can handle seizures in water. Wear a bright swimming cap so you can be spotted quickly in the pool.
Swim in a pool rather than open current where rescue is more difficult.
Dealing with a seizure in water – advice for companion swimmers
Close monitoring of someone who may have any kind of seizure in water is vital. Even in the briefest of seizures the swimmer may suddenly disappear below the surface. Flotation devices may help but they are not fool proof.
Once the companion realises a seizure is starting they need to react quickly and keep the person’s head supported and their face above water all the times during the seizure. It may be easier to support the person in place from behind the head. If possible, gently ease the person to shallower water and continue to hold the head so that the face is above water at all times. Once the seizure is over, the swimmer may be moved gently to the poolside keeping the head supported and the face above water. Medical attention is needed in the event of inhaling water or any concerns about breathing or recovery.
For more information about water sports and safety visit the Irish Water Safety website.
High risk sports
- Solo hang gliding and solo parachuting
- Unsupervised potholing/caving
- Solo hill walking, rock or mountain climbing, abseiling
- Full contact karate
- Bungee jumping
- Scuba diving
- Aviation and motor sports Sports involving heights/ free running
- Unsupervised skiing
- Unsupervised sailing, water sports, swimming, surfin