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Epilepsy Blog Relay: 5 Tips for Fitness with Epilepsy

Abby’s Story

Wouldn’t it be nice to not worry about what sports to play and/or what activities to partake in?  I think it would!  That would be a luxury!  But, that’s just not a reality for those of us with epilepsy.  There are certain things that we need to think about when choosing a sport or fitness program when epilepsy is in the mix.

Fitness with Epilepsy

I grew up playing soccer.  I absolutely loved soccer.  To be honest, when I was in high school, my personal goal was to play in college.  I was already on a select team in St. Louis and the Missouri Olympic Development Team for my age group.  This was what I wanted to do.

However, high school was a rough time for me.  We, as a family, could not get my seizures under control.  We tried all different medicines, we tried stints in the EMU to see if brain surgery was an option (it was not), and we tried adopting overall healthy habits (getting enough sleep, eating healthy, etc).  Nothing worked.   I was still having seizures… often.

The physical nature of soccer and the head balls that I had to do in my position as a defender did not bode well for my health.   As a family, we were not as concerned with the physicality of soccer, we were concerned about the head balls.

Recently, my mom told me a story when I was writing my new book, Seize the Day, of a time during a game when I went up for a head ball against another girl near the goal.  Our heads hit and she said that you could hear the collision of our two heads from the stands.  She said it terrified her and that she was concerned the next seizure I had was because of that blow to my head.  It probably wasn’t in the end, but we can also never prove that it didn’t have a negative impact.

It was not long after that incident that my parents and I decided this sport was probably not good for my health.  It was time for me to find another passion and focus my energies elsewhere.  While I didn’t immediately find my fitness/activity passion at that time, I did (at that time) fall in love with student council and became the President of our senior class.  When one door shuts, another one always opens.

5 tips for fitness with epilepsy

With that, I’d like to offer a few words of wisdom about thoughtfully choosing a fitness program or physical activity to those living with epilepsy:

  1. Be careful if it includes water sports or swimming.
  2. Stay away from activities where you could get hurt.  Contact sports, where a head injury is possible, is probably one that should be carefully considered when a person is living with epilepsy.
  3. It helps to have other people around you in case of emergency.  I’m not saying you always need somebody around, but have a backup plan if you are alone.
  4. Tell somebody you love when to expect you back say from a long training run or bike ride.
  5. Carry a medical card or jewelry that explains that you have epilepsy and what first aid you may or may not need.

These days, I focus on running, spinning, and group exercise classes.  As you can probably tell, it’s been a personal choice to stay away from contact sports.  But, luckily I can say I love running just as much as I always loved soccer!

Abby’s Book

Be sure to check out Abby’s book, Seize the Day.

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Contributing Writer

Abby Gustus Alford was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 12 after multiple grand mal seizures over six-mos. She has a BA from Purdue and her Master’s from Northwestern.