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Epilepsy in Young People

Sport and exercise with epilepsy

Young people we spoke with did many different kinds of sport: football, rugby, basketball, gymnastics, hiking, biking, extreme sports, swimming, running, fitness & gym, tetrathlon, martial arts, flying and surfing. 

 

Harry can't drive a car but has flown a plane!

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 7
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Harry' I've always loved aeroplanes since I was young. and when I was ten, ten was my big, my first big birthday,

Mum' Double figures.

Harry' Yeah, my first double figure birthday and my godfather he knows I like planes, he bought me for my present my first ever flying lesson and took me up and I had a lesson I think it was it [place name]. Well it was airfield [place name] and I had my first lesson. And I had a couple more after that, I even on one of them I landed the plane which I was quite impressed. Yeah, I didn't even think about having epilepsy when I did that it was just the fact that I was only 11 and I did that.

Mum' Looped the loop and was sick everywhere.

Harry' Yeah, I went upside down and I threw up everywhere.

Some had had to cut down on exercise or even stop altogether because of frequent seizures or because strenuous exercise triggered their seizures (see 'Epilepsy triggers and managing them'). Most people could take precautions to ensure that doing sport was safe for them.

 

Clair had a few seizures while doing exercise so she has cut down on sport. She hopes to get back...

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 19
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Before I went to university and I did basketball and tetrathlon which is running, swimming, shooting and ridin. I ride and I skied and I just did loads of sport I sort of ran at school. And I wasn't, you know, really amazing sort of level of sport but I enjoyed and my friends were all sporty and that sort of thing. And when I went to Uni I carried that on and I was in the Athletics Club and the Basketball Club. But after I'd had two [seizures] running it kind of knocked me back I didn't really wanna push myself running because obviously I'm relating to two of them, even though my neurologist actually said it's not a trigger for epilepsy, it's unlikely to have anything to do with it but I kind of still related it. And then when I had the fourth one running that was sort of even more and since then I have run a bit, but I wouldn't say I run, I don't do sport like I used to do it. But I am kind of bringing it in a bit more now, my boyfriend's starting to run with me. And people have been really good and even the girl who I ran with who I had my second seizure with she's been offering to run with me if I want to do it. People do offer to run with me but there's kind of like a little nagging in the back of my brain. But then I've just been to talk to my neurologist about it not long ago and he said to be sensible and just build it up slowly so and just I know that I won't run when I'm ill or when I'm tired or when I'm really stressed and so just to be more sensible about the whole thing. But yeah I've always wanted to run the marathon so, hopefully one day I will get back to it.

**Note: Collapsing during exercise can be a serious sign of a heart problem and always requires immediate medical assessment.

 
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Exercise, especially at cold temperatures, can give Rosie seizures, so she avoids certain sports.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 10
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The only thing it occurs to me to take epilepsy into consideration is horse riding, biking, and running, as the first two cause me to start fitting below a certain temperature. And running and swimming cause me to fit every single time so I simply avoid doing those either. Otherwise it doesn't occur me to think about/of the epilepsy when doing things. Because if it did it means I'm thinking of the epilepsy as a barrier.

Some people usually did sport with a friend, rather than on their own, so they had somebody with them who knew what to do if they had a seizure. Others informed the staff at the sports centre of their epilepsy, for example the instructors at the gym, the lifeguards at the swimming pool, or the tutors of their exercise classes. People also felt safer wearing medical alert jewellery with their medical and contact details, if they were doing sport on their own. A couple of people also said that, before doing any sport, they made sure they'd taken account of their trigger factors, for example getting plenty of rest and eating properly.

 

Bex makes sure she eats and sleeps well before going surfing and only surfs on safe beaches with...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 13
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They tell you like you can't swim you know if you have epilepsy and you know you can't mix and wander around that type of thing. And that always used to really affect me. I used to think oh, you know, I want to do that but I used to just take people with me. And there are ways around it. You can inform the lifeguard that you have it if you feel comfortable enough. If not, take a friend, if you really want to swim on your own, then inform the lifeguard. But with surfing there often isn't a lifeguard and I surf in winters. So yeah, that was a big problem. But it is just surf, I surf with friends. Very careful of the beaches I surf at. Make sure, again that the just usual surfer rules just watch the beaches and things that you that you surf, make you sure you know them. But I also like to make sure that I eat well and sleep well the night before. And you know that the people I am surfing with obviously know about the epilepsy and know what to do. But yeah, I am pretty safe so. Nothing, nothing has happened in the sea. So that is good. There's always seem to be more limitations than what there are when you look into it.

 
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Rania goes swimming only if there's a lifeguard at the pool. She also goes to the gym and does...

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Age at interview: 16
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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I can't swim. I know how to swim and everything but I'm not meant to. Unless the place is insured and there is a lifeguard. I can do most things and I do martial arts. And I'm allowed to go the gym and that but I have to be careful of using the equipment and that. You can't stop, you can't change your life completely, but you still have to take into sort of, you have to tell the people, the assistants and the people there so they're constantly watching as well.

A few people said they took no special measures when doing sports, for example they didn't wear a cycling helmet or inform the lifeguards at the swimming pool.

 

Though Ben's had injuries before, he enjoys riding his bike and doesn't always wear a helmet. He...

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 14
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Things like riding my bike, it's the only way I can get around really. I could walk but I like riding bikes, I've always been into bicycles and repairing and all sorts. So at the end of the day that's one thing that I think to myself, 'yeah okay I shouldn't be riding a bike but, I'd probably do more damage to myself, standing next to a table than I would going down the road on me bike and having one', which has happened a couple of times. And I've found myself to have less damage, less bruises, less cuts than I have had in other situations which you would've thought to be a safer environment. I had a lot more cuts and bruises and things like that so in a way you have to sort of turn around and say, 'Oh yeah, yeah, it's a case' but if I was to sit there worried about health and safety and issues like that all the time I'd just be constantly paranoid you know. It's making jokes of it and just basically saying, 'Yeah it's an issue but hey' - not only keeps me going but makes me live life a bit better, I think.

A few people had not been allowed to do certain sports in school because their teachers had worried about them having a seizure.

Last reviewed May 2016.

Last updated May 2010.

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