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 Blanket restrictions aren’t helpful and may even be based on outdated ideas.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 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. The Seizure Wheel in our Safety and Seizures booklet can help 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.
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. 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.
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, surfing
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 see the Irish Water Safety site
Night Clubs, Cinemas and Concerts
Over 95% of people with epilepsy are not affected by flashing lights and don’t need to unduly avoid venues like nightclubs and concerts. However, people diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy on an EEG may find flashing lights, fireworks, even natural light or glare, could trigger a seizure. Covering one eye with a hand helps to reduce risk of a seizure.
Videogames, computers and TV
Again for over 95% pf people with epilepsy flicker and glare don’t trigger their seizures. If you aren’t sure if this applies to you, ask your team about your EEG record to check for the results of the photic stimulation test, where lights are flashed to see if the person has the photosensitive response. Computers are safe to use for the vast majority of people with epilepsy, even many people with Photosensitivity. Computers are required by law to have anti-glare screens built in. Unlike the older analogue TV sets, modern digital flatscreen TV’s like LCD and plasma screens are flicker free but if glare is still a problem they may need to be adjusted for that. The set is best placed at eye level, at least three metres away from the viewer with good background lighting. Use a remote control for changing channels.