I have been diagnosed with epilepsy. Does this change what activities I can do?
Is sport a good idea for people with epilepsy?
How do I decide whether an activity is safe for me or someone else?
Should I tell people about my epilepsy?
In or by water
Out and about
In the air
Contact and extreme sports
Having the opportunity to take part in sport and leisure activities is important for everyone, including people with epilepsy. This information looks at a number of different sporting and leisure activities in relation to epilepsy.
With the right support and the relevant safety precautions, there is little that you should need to avoid. If your seizures are completely controlled by epilepsy medicine, you may not need to take any greater safety precautions than anyone else. Some people use the epilepsy and driving laws to decide whether their seizures are controlled. So this would mean not having a seizure for 12 months. For anyone, with or without epilepsy, it is always a good idea to follow the rules and recommendations around safety and equipment.
Some people say, when they are active, they are less likely to have seizures. So, for some people with epilepsy, taking part in sport and leisure activities can really benefit their epilepsy. A very small number of people with epilepsy find that doing strenuous exercise increases their likelihood of having seizures.
As a person with epilepsy you will always need to ask yourself if there is any risk involved in an activity. If there is, by putting some safety measures in place, you can lower this risk. There are many activities that carry some sort of risk, even if you don’t have epilepsy. But people still do these activities – otherwise no-one would ever cross the road! Like anyone else, you might consider a particular activity and decide the benefits of doing it outweigh the risks of doing it. It’s all about balancing these out.
Some activities will have a governing body which has particular rules around safety and medical conditions. For details of these organisations contact Epilepsy Action.
For more information on risk see our safety web pages.
To take part in some sports or activities you may need to complete a medical form. This information should only be used to help the organiser do a risk assessment and, if needed, make any reasonable adjustments. You might want to talk to your doctor first to help you decide if something is safe enough for you.
If your epilepsy is unlikely to affect the safety of yourself and others, you may feel you don’t need to tell anyone about your epilepsy.
- The answers to these questions would help with a risk assessment:
- How often do you have seizures?
- What happens when you have a seizure?
- Do you have a warning before a seizure?
- How long do your seizures usually last?
- Is there anything that triggers your seizures (for example flashing lights, excitement, and disturbed sleep)?
- What risk could there be for you and other people if you had a seizure during the activity?
- What support would be available if you needed it?
If you feel you are being unfairly prevented from taking part in a sport or leisure activity because of your epilepsy, check our information on the UK equality laws and epilepsy.
If you live outside the UK, find out about similar laws in your country by contacting your local epilepsy organisation.
If you would like to check an activity that’s not on the list below, please contact Epilepsy Action
In or by water: Water sports in general, swimming, scuba diving, Jacuzzi, fishing
Out and about:Walking, cycling, running, climbing, horse riding, skiing, theme parks
Indoors:At the gym, squash, yoga, sauna and steam room
In the air:Flying a private plane, skydiving
Contact and extreme sports:Boxing, martial arts, team sport
Water sports in general
Water sports can be enjoyed by people with epilepsy whose seizures are well controlled. If your seizures are completely controlled, you need to consider the general safety precautions for that sport. If you are still having seizures, you need to consider safety issues and your seizures. For example:
- Some water sports can be hazardous and may be best avoided
- Don’t do water sports on your own
- Make sure someone with you knows about your epilepsy and how to rescue you if necessary
- Wearing a life jacket is essential if there’s a danger of falling into the water
If your seizures are completely controlled, you don’t need to take any greater safety precautions than anyone else. If you are still having seizures you need to consider safety precautions. For example:
- Seek advice from your doctor or epilepsy nurse. Discuss issues such as your seizure type(s), frequency, and any other factors that could affect your safety when swimming
- It is always a good idea to have a companion in the water with you
- Talk to the staff at your local swimming pool about any special requirements you may have
- Use a floating/buoyancy aid
- If there is a lifeguard or pool supervisor present, make them aware of your epilepsy
- If there’s no qualified lifeguard present, don’t swim deeper than the shoulder height of the companion swimming with you
- Make sure that your companion knows what to do if you have a seizure and is strong enough to help you (see how to deal with a seizure in the water, below)
- Practise what to do if you have a seizure, with your companion. This will boost your confidence and theirs
- You could ask a lifeguard to show you how to deal with a seizure that happens in the water
- Don’t swim if you are feeling unwell
- Avoid overcrowded situations, as it might be difficult for others to notice if you have a seizure
How to deal with a seizure in the water
Tonic-clonic seizures - basic guidelines:
- From behind, tilt the person’s head so it is out of the water
- If possible, move the person to shallow water, while holding their head above water
- Don’t restrain their movements or place anything in their mouth
- Once jerking movements have stopped, move them to dry land
- Place them on their side to recover
- Stay with them until they feel better
Absence and focal seizures – basic guidelines
Protect the person from danger, for example by guiding them away from deep water or by holding their head above the water. When they recover, check if they need to get out of the water as they may feel confused and need to rest.
When to call an ambulance
- Call an ambulance:
- If you believe the person has swallowed or breathed in water, even if they appear to be fully recovered or
- If you know it’s the person’s first seizure, or if the person is unknown to you or
- If the person goes from one seizure to another without regaining consciousness between seizures or
- If the seizure lasts longer than is usual for the person or, if in doubt, when the seizure continues for more than five minutes or
- If the person has been injured
It is recommended by the British Sub-Aqua Club that you are free from awake seizures and off epilepsy medicine for five years if you want to go scuba diving. If you only have seizures while asleep, you should be seizure free and off epilepsy medicine for three years.
There is no reason why you shouldn’t use a Jacuzzi. However, if your seizures are not well controlled, you should have someone with you who would know how to help you, if you have a seizure.
If your seizures are completely controlled, you need to consider the general safety precautions for fishing. If you are still having seizures, never fish alone and make sure the person with you knows what to do if you have a seizure. Wearing a life jacket is essential if there’s a danger of falling into the water. And using a longer line may mean you don’t have to sit too near the water’s edge.
To feel confident when out on your own for activities like jogging or rambling, you may want to consider an alarm that uses a tracking or location device. This could not only alert someone if you were having a seizure, it could also tell the person where you were.
Epilepsy Action has more information on seizure alarms.
There’s no reason why having epilepsy should stop you going hiking or rambling. If you are still having seizures, it’s a good idea to go with someone who knows what to do if you have a seizure.
For further information on rambling and epilepsy contact the Ramblers Association.
The normal safety precautions for cyclists include wearing high-visibility clothing and protective headgear. These precautions are particularly important if you have epilepsy and want to cycle. If you still have seizures, try to avoid cycling on busy roads and by rivers or canals. If you have frequent seizures, you may decide to avoid cycling on public roads altogether, until your seizures are under better control. Cycling on the pavement isn’t allowed for anyone over the age of 10.
Running and jogging
If you go running or jogging, you may wish to consider taking some extra safety precautions. These could include keeping to well-lit and traffic-free routes. It is best not to run by rivers or canals. If you are still having seizures, you should ideally go with someone else and/or have a mobile phone with you to call for help if necessary.
Heights are a potential danger to anyone with epilepsy. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t go climbing. But you will need to think carefully about your safety and that of the other people with you in any climbing group. In particular, if you’re still having seizures it would be best to seek medical advice before a climb involving high altitude. Climbing fast to a high altitude can increase the risk of someone having a seizure. If you are still having seizures, you may need to consider avoiding this sport, until you have better seizure control.
Horse riding can be safe if your seizures are well controlled, or if you always have a long enough warning before a seizure. If your seizures are not well controlled and could cause you to fall off the horse, you may still be able to ride. However, you would need to be closely supported by someone walking alongside the horse.
Cross-country and downhill skiing can both be enjoyed by many people with epilepsy. However, if you are still having seizures, you should avoid downhill skiing. This is because it would be dangerous if you had a seizure. If you are going cross-country skiing, go with someone who knows what to do if you have a seizure.
You might have concerns about safety on rides. Providing there are general safety precautions in place, you don’t need to avoid rides.
Some attractions may involve flashing lights and you may need to be avoid these if you have photosensitive epilepsy.
At the gym
If you have been seizure free for 12 months you should be able to use any piece of gym equipment. If you are still at risk of having seizures, there may be equipment that you shouldn’t use because it wouldn’t be safe for you or other people. You could discuss this with the staff at the gym and ask for a safety assessment.
If you are still having seizures, it would be a good idea to check with your doctor about playing squash. In addition to possible danger from the equipment if you had a seizure, squash is particularly strenuous. Strenuous activity can trigger seizures in some people.
Yoga can be of benefit to some people with epilepsy. It is said to help people become balanced in mind and body and to aid relaxation. There are different types of yoga. There is some evidence to suggest that strong pranayama (breathing control) and trataka (gazing at a meditation object) should be avoided by people with epilepsy, as these could trigger a seizure.
For more information about yoga contact the British Wheel of Yoga (‘Sports England’ recognised national governing body for yoga).
Sauna and steam room
Anyone is at risk of burns if they are ill while in a sauna or steam room. If you’re still having seizures it would be a good idea to go with someone who would know how to help you, if you have a seizure.
Flying a private plane
A National Private Pilot Licence (NPPL) is a recreational licence that allows you to fly certain types of light aircraft in the UK. To hold a restricted NPPL that allows you to fly solo you must be seizure free for 12 months. To carry passengers you must have been seizure free for 10 years and not taken epilepsy medicines in that time.
The Civil Aviation Authority has more information about medical requirements for pilot licences.
Sky diving (parachuting)
The British Parachute Association says you can take part in a tandem skydive (where you are attached to a professional) if:
You have been seizure free for the last two years, and
You have not had any changes to your medicine in this period
You will need to get your doctor to sign a medical certificate. Solo skydiving is not considered safe for people with epilepsy.
See our Campaigns section for what Epilepsy Action are doing about this.
If you have epilepsy the regulations say you can box, unless you have had a seizure in the last three years. However, it's a good idea to ask your doctor for advice before boxing.
Cave diving, hang gliding, parachuting, snowboarding and bungee jumping are just a few examples of extreme sports. All extreme sports have an element of danger. So it would be particularly important to check whether it would be safe enough to do any of these activities if you are still having seizures. Whichever sport you choose, there is usually a governing body that sets the safety regulations. For details of these organisations contact Epilepsy Action.
If you have seizures, it would be best to ask your doctor for advice before practising martial arts. Whatever type of martial art you choose, you should make sure that the people in charge know about your epilepsy and what to do if you have a seizure.
Team sports (including football, rugby, cricket and netball)
There is no evidence to suggest that you should avoid team sports, as long as you follow the normal safeguards. These safeguards may include wearing the proper head protection as recommended by the official sporting body. If your epilepsy has been caused by a head injury, your doctor may advise you to avoid these types of sports.
For more information on epilepsy and rugby, contact the Rugby Football League.
If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone on 0808 800 5050.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Jo Geldard , Epilepsy Nurse Specialist at Leeds General Infirmary, for her contribution to this information.
Jo Geldard has no conflict of interest.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
- Updated March 2017To be reviewed March 2020