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S.S. Collard, C. Ellis-Hill. In Epilepsy & Behavior 2017; 66-71.


Getting regular exercise is an important part of staying healthy. Yet people with epilepsy often get conflicting or no advice about exercise. They may be told to stop an exercise or sport for fear of an injury if a seizure were to occur. Others receive no advice at all or worry from loved ones lead to not exercising.

Research has shown that people with seizures are less active then people without seizures. At the same time, anecdotal reports and research is showing positive benefits from exercise for people with epilepsy related to seizure control, general health, mood, and feelings of well-being.

Description of Study

The authors of this study sought to learn from people with epilepsy about their motivation and barriers to exercise and how they adapted their activity and exercise.  

The authors used a qualitative approach involving focus groups and interviews to learn directly from people with epilepsy. They looked for common themes and relationships.

Summary of Study Findings 

  • 11 people participated in the groups and interviews.
  • Common themes emerged around motivation to exercise, perceived barriers, and ways to cope or adapt while exercising. 
  • Motivation to exercise included benefits to both physical and mental health, feeling physically healthy and finding a way to not let epilepsy “take over their life,” recovering from seizures better, and improved stress and social interaction. 
  • Barriers included fear of injury, lack of social support to exercise, and seizures triggered or induced by exercise. Some people identified the type of exercise or getting overheated while exercising may affect their seizures. Not getting advice on exercise or being told not to exercise was a barrier as well. 
  • Adaptations or ways of coping with exercise included being aware of seizure triggers and one’s own limits; using technology to help with self-monitoring; adjusting frequency, type, or intensity level of exercise; and exercising at certain times of days.
  • Social support was noted as a barrier and also as a way to adapt their exercise and address information and safety needs. 

What does this mean? 

  • While exercise and being physically fit is important for everyone, this study offered insights into why exercise levels may be less for people with epilepsy.  
  • The common themes identified in this qualitative study can be easily incorporated into discussions between people with epilepsy and their health care team. This could lead to better assessment of risks and ways to encourage exercise and address worries and barriers.
  • Discussions about exercise should be encouraged between people with epilepsy and loved ones. Identifying worries and developing safety plans for exercise can be one way of easing worries. Ways to increase socialization can be developed as well.
  • Using technology to help people identify triggers and monitor their activity can be a very useful self-management approach. Collecting real-time data can then be used when developing exercise and safety plans.

Article published in Epilepsy & Behavior, May 2017

Authored By: 
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Authored Date: 
Reviewed By: 
Joseph I. Sirven MD
Wednesday, June 21, 2017