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A Guide to Safely Working Out with Epilepsy

TW: This article discusses exercise, body image and eating habits, as well as descriptions of having seizures.

It’s 2:30am. I feel the rustle of scratchy blankets and hear passing voices. I open my eyes, confused. Then, I remember. I’m in A & E. It’s Wednesday night and no one else is here.  The last thing I recall is getting back from a run and turning on the shower. After that? It’s all a bit of a blur. 

Then I remembered. I’d had a seizure, fallen back and hit my head.

The trigger? Going on a run. Not cool, epilepsy.

Exercise is Part of My Life, But So is Epilepsy

I’ve grown up around exercise. Dancing three times a week, walking everywhere, going for runs, it’s part of me. I like keeping fit and moving my unpredictable body. It makes me feel better.

Since my epilepsy kicked into action, the thing I struggle with most is consistency. I have a streak of doing weights and nailing the tree pose in yoga. Then it’s back to falling asleep at 11am even though I’d been in bed for ten hours the night before. 

Before trying any heavy exercise, getting in touch with your neurologist or a qualified Personal Trainer is a good idea. They can help you with medication adjustments (if required) and guidance on what works best. But, at the end of the day, no one but you lives with your epilepsy.

Years have passed since that running incident, and I’m happy to say I now exercise regularly (okay, that may be a bit of a lie. But this girl’s got a lot on). I’m active without fear of a seizure, and that’s incredible. I’ve learnt my body, I’ve learnt about my epilepsy. Let me tell you how I did it.

Use Intuitive Exercise

You’ve probably heard of intuitive eating. It’s when you listen to what your body wants and needs rather than following diet culture. But no one ever talks about intuitive exercise, which is especially important when you have a long-term and physically draining condition. 

You need to exercise intuitively (or at least have a flexible workout schedule) because not all days are the same. When you have epilepsy, sometimes you wake up tired. Maybe you have exams, work is a bit intense, or socialising has drained your soul.

That feeling of exhaustion can last weeks, and it’s frustrating as hell when you want to keep fit. Instead of pushing yourself to work out and extend the cycle of tiredness, take a break. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. Take a break, not necessarily, from exercise but intense physical training.

For instance, I sit on the ground and do stretches instead of fast-flow yoga when I feel tired. That’s it. Standing is not necessary, and no one loves minimal effort exercise more than I do. Gentle stretches relax the muscles and move the body. Now, I hate talking about calories, but stretching does burn them, as does walking. 

Understand and appreciate how your epilepsy responds to exercise so you can work out no matter where you are in life. Intuitive exercise enables you to remain consistent, and you know the saying, ‘consistency is key.’ Do your more intense stuff when you have the extra energy, but listen to your body. When you feel tired, it’s a sign you need to slow down, so slow your exercise too.

Change Your Mindset About What ‘Counts’ as Exercise

After having a seizure from my run, I struggled to get back into it. Even when I went into the gym on a treadmill, I imagined falling off and hitting my head. Weight training was terrifying too. What if I dropped a weight and severely hurt myself? 

It’s critical to do workouts that make you feel safe. Otherwise, it only increases anxiety when it comes to keeping fit.

Even if there’s a type of exercise you love, sometimes it’s best to take a break from it. I know, I know, it’s hard. You feel like you’re losing progress, and all you want is to get in shape and feel good. But the thing is, when you’re struggling, it won’t make you feel good. It will feel draining, overwhelming, and sometimes scary.

So, take it down a notch and do something like yoga, pilates, or go for a casual walk. And you know what? It still counts

Work Out to Feel Good, Not Look Good

My main reason for exercising is always because I should and not because I want to (and that’s not the way to go). There is so much pressure to have a slim belly and toned ‘everything.’ But there’s no point in pushing your body past breaking point simply because that’s how exercise is ‘supposed’ to feel. Many people exercise to feel body confident, but what if you just feel confident, full stop? 

When you focus on feeling good, you’re kind to your body and your epilepsy. Those ideas then trickle into other areas of your life. You start eating better, managing your sleep, and giving your life balance. In return, your confidence grows. Because you’re taking care of yourself instead of punishing your body, you feel better. Your self-esteem increases, and you start wearing what you want, holding your head high, and smiling. All those things that make you feel good.

Over time, I’ve started enjoying the happy feeling I get after exercise rather than monitoring results. And, you know what? I get that buzz from a simple walk or basic stretches. It doesn’t have to be twenty-thousand burpees for me to feel gorgeous because I am proud of myself when I exercise regularly (no matter what type it is).

Find the Right Balance When Working Out with Epilepsy 

Exercising with a chronic condition is all about balance. Using intuitive exercise, rewiring your beliefs about what counts as a workout, and focusing on what feels good. You can still keep active, and you can still get fit, but do it in moderation. And above all, respect yourself and your body. 

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