Physical Exercise in Outpatients with Epilepsy

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To compare the exercise habits in a sample of adult outpatients with epilepsy with those of a general population of the same age and sex and furthermore to study physical exercise as a seizure precipitant and the risk of sustaining seizure-related injuries while exercising.


Two hundred four adult outpatients with active epilepsy responded to two questionnaires. The first one, addressing exercise habits, was a selected part of a broad self-assessing screening used every second year by a marketing and media research institute to reveal changes in the average Norwegian's lifestyle. The exercise habits of the epilepsy population were compared with those of the average population. The other questionnaire, addressing seizures and injuries related to physical exercise, consisted of eight sections and was developed at the National Center for Epilepsy in Norway.


The portion of those never exercising was significantly higher among the patient group compared with the average population. Otherwise, the exercise patterns were very similar in the two populations. However, the patients exercised more often in fitness centers and together with friends, whereas individual activities like skiing and swimming were more often preferred by the average Norwegian. Of the 204 patients, 53 and 63% had never experienced seizures during or immediately after exercise, respectively. About 10% of the patients claimed that they had seizures quite often in connection with exercise. However, only 2% had genuine exercise-induced seizures, here arbitrarily defined as having seizures in >50% of the training sessions. Among those prone to have exercise-related seizures, there was a predominance of patients with symptomatic localization-related epilepsy (i.e., with an underlying structural brain lesion). Most exercise-related seizures occurred during strenuous activity. About 38% of the patients claimed to have personal experience regarding whether regular physical exercise influenced their seizure disorder; of these, 53% claimed there was no influence, 36% claimed there was a positive influence, and 10% reported a negative influence. Thirty-six percent of the patients had experienced injuries in connection with physical exercise, but in only 10% were these injuries associated with seizures. The injuries were mostly mild.


The surveyed sample of epilepsy outpatients was more active than expected, and their exercise pattern closely resembled that of the average Norwegian population. In the majority of the patients, physical exercise had no adverse effects, and a considerable proportion (36%) claimed that regular exercise contributed to better seizure control. However, in ∼10% of the patients, exercise appeared to be a seizure precipitant, and this applied particularly to those with symptomatic partial epilepsy. The risk of sustaining serious seizure-related injuries exercising seemed modest.

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