It is easy to let the fear of seizures and epilepsy stop you from enjoying exercise and getting outdoors. I LOVE exercise, but I often have the debilitating thoughts of ‘Last time I went swimming, I had a seizure’, or ‘Last time I went from a run I had a seizure’. And before I know it, I am sitting inside thinking about how nice a swim would be at that moment. Yet I just let it keep as a thought, and I don’t go and actually enjoy it.
Regular exercise can in some cases manage seizure activity. We do have to be careful which exercise we take on. For example swimming alone isn’t advised, rock climbing may not be the best idea, and running alone isn’t either. The most important thing to remember is, we should all have the opportunity to get out there and enjoy sports. Epilepsy shouldn’t stop this. (always check with your doctor!)
Here are a few ways exercise can help when you are living with epilepsy or other chronic illnesses:
1. Sleep better
How many of you are triggered by lack of sleep and stress? Guess what? They’re two of my main triggers too. The key to maximizing the benefits of exercise is to follow a well-designed program that you can stick with over the long term.
2. Manage depression and anxiety
As you know, some of the conditions often associated with epilepsy are depression and anxiety. Exercising can really help these two conditions. Regular exercise can help you have two less things to be worried about and you will hopefully be able to manage your Epilepsy more.
3. Improve bone density
Exercise can also improve bone density, helping to counter the bone loss that is a common side effect of many antiepileptic drugs.
4. Manage weight and improve immunity
With the appropriate exercise, you can help yourself to maintain a healthy body weight, boost your immunity, reduce stress, sleep better and feel more energized. These are key factors in managing your seizures.
(remember check with your doctor!)
Minimize the risk
As a person with epilepsy, make sure you ask yourself if there is any risk involved in an activity. When I did my wing walk for charity, I sat down and had a real good think to myself. There were many risks involved in me doing it, but I made sure I put some safety measures in place therefore lowering the risks. There are many activities that carry some sort of risk, even if you don’t have epilepsy. Going to the gym using heavy equipment, skydiving, horse riding, yet people still do these activities. Other people find a way to manage the risks involved, so we can too.
Go for low impact
Two exercises I really enjoy are Pilates and Yoga. I do these every day. You don’t have to do running, biking or horseback riding to do sports outside-yoga and pilates are GREAT to do in your garden or at a park.
There are so many benefits to pilates, and the moves of pilates look simple, but they take a lot of focus control, meaning you are thinking in the moment and forget all other worries of the day. It’s a real technique.
Pilates and yoga for strength and flexibility
You can do Pilates on an exercise mat in a class or at home, using a trainer in a class or a DVD/Youtube video at home. I can’t commit to classes due to my work shifts so I work round those by doing it at home. If you go to a class, the classes are usually around 45 minutes to an hour, but I do turbo pilates at home if I have less time, or a full hour if I can spare it.
You work on your mindfulness with this by focusing on the fresh air, the smells of nature and the sounds of the birds. You’ll also get stronger, by building more muscles and gaining flexibility. You may also have better posture and a better sense of well-being. Pilates is also fantastic at helping you focus on your breathing. My seizures are often triggered by hyperventilating, so pilates works with that, and because it is controlled breathing it really benefits me.
Exercise at night
If you work during the day and get home late, remember just because it is night-time it doesn’t mean that you need to stop enjoying the outdoors and go straight inside. If you’re outside on a clear night, you’ll have an opportunity to see star-lit skies that are almost impossible to ever see if you live in a city or work inside. Grab yourself a mat and enjoy 10 or so minutes in your garden or somewhere safe near your home if you don’t have much of a yard.
“Log off, shut down and enjoy the outdoors”-Emily Sian Donoghue
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25 yr old monthly columnist on Living Well with Epilepsy. Full time worker of NHS England.
Emily’s Perspective is a snapshot of what life is like living with Epilepsy. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy at the age of 10.
Based in UK.