Leading an active life is good medicine for most people with epilepsy. If you find that getting overheated or physically tired triggers seizures, then you may want to avoid exercising when it's very hot. Take breaks when you feel you need them.

But if you are like most people with seizures, you will find that exercise is good for you in a number of ways. It makes you feel good and fights depression. It keeps your weight at reasonable levels so you look your best, and it builds self-confidence and self-esteem.

For all these reasons, the Epilepsy Foundation encourages people with epilepsy to engage in sports and recreation activities as part of a positive approach to an active life, however precautions are necessary for some activities.

Swimming and other water sports. 

Swimming is a wonderful exercise. However water can be a hazard for anyone, and especially people with epilepsy. If you become unconscious while in the water, or if a seizure causes you to fall into water, you could drown. Even taking a bath in a tub with a few inches of water can be dangerous for people with epilepsy.

It is therefore advisable to review your seizure control with your doctor to see whether water sports of any kind are appropriate for you at this point in your treatment. If you are still having seizures, you should not swim unless a lifeguard or a friend who is a good swimmer is there to provide help if you need it. No one, whether or not he or she has epilepsy, should swim alone. Life jackets are a good idea for all watercraft activities and when swimming in oceans, rivers and lakes where water may not be as clear as it is in a swimming pool.

Mountain climbing. 

Heights are also a potential hazard to anyone who has epilepsy. It's not only the risk of falling if you should have a seizure, the reduced oxygen and atmospheric changes at the kind of elevations encountered in some kinds of mountain climbing may increase seizure risk, too.

This is not to say that someone with excellent seizure control should not go mountain climbing. But in doing so, take a long, considered look at the safety precautions you plans to take, and at any risks to your own well-being and that of other members of the party.

Contact sports. 

If you want to participate in contact sports like tackle football, you should consider the risks of a blow to the head. If playing contact sports is important in your life, discuss it with your doctor or other health professional and with your team physician.

Other special activities. 

Similar considerations obviously apply to sky diving, water skiing, hang gliding, scuba diving, or any sports activity that would be hazardous if you were suddenly to lose consciousness or be unable to control your movements. Participation in these activities should be decided individually, in consultation with your doctor, and after careful consideration of the risks involved.

Exercise Safety Tips    

  • When exercising, take frequent breaks, stay cool, and save your greatest exertion for the coolest part of the day.    
  • Exercise on soft surfaces if you can -- grass, mats, wood chips. * Review the risks carefully before taking up sports which could put you in danger if you were suddenly unaware of what you were doing.    
  • Wearing a life vest is a good idea when you are on or close to water.    
  • Swimming can be safe and fun for everyone, but if you have seizures, avoid swimming alone. Tell lifeguards and friends you swim with what kind of seizures you have, how to recognize them, and what to do if you have one. Make sure they swim well enough to help if you need it.    
  • Wear head protection when playing contact sports or when there is an added risk of falling or head injuries.  
  • If you ski or hike, go with a buddy; you may need someone to get help if you have a seizure in remote areas. Consider use of a safety strap and hook when riding the ski lift.
Reviewed By: 
Joseph I. Sirven MD
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Wednesday, March 19, 2014