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.
In this section
- Sport and leisure activities and epilepsy
- Telling people about your epilepsy
- Talking to your doctor
With the right support and the relevant safety precautions, there is little that someone with epilepsy should need to avoid. Many people with epilepsy have their seizures completely controlled by epilepsy medicine and don’t need to take any greater safety precautions than anyone else. However it is always a good idea to follow the rules and recommendations in terms of safety equipment.
Some people say that 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.
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. Knowing the answers to the issues under ‘talking to your doctor’ would help with a risk assessment. However, 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.
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.
It’s a good idea to speak to your doctor before trying a new sport or activity, particularly if your seizures are uncontrolled. These are some of the things you might want to discuss with your doctor. The answers would help someone doing a risk assessment if necessary:
- How often you have seizures
- What happens when you have a seizure
- If you have a warning before a seizure
- How long your seizures usually last
- If there are things you know trigger your seizures (for example flashing lights, excitement, and disturbed sleep)
- What risk there could be for you and other people if you had a seizure during the activity
- What support would be available if you needed it
- Extreme sports
- Flying a private plane
- Hiking and rambling
- Horse riding
- Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room
- Martial arts
- Running and jogging
- Scuba diving
- Skydiving (parachuting)
- Team sports (including football, rugby and netball)
- Theme parks
- Water sports in general
If you have epilepsy and live in the UK, you can box unless you have had a seizure in the last three years.
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. If you are still having seizures, you may need to consider avoiding this sport, until you have better seizure control.
If people have poorly controlled seizures it would be best to seek medical advice before a climb involving high altitude. In particular, climbing fast to a high altitude may increase the risk of someone having a seizure.
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.
Cave diving, hang gliding, 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 did not have seizure control. Whichever sport you choose, there is usually a governing body that sets the safety regulations.
Contact Epilepsy Action for further information.
If your seizures are completely controlled, you need to consider the general safety precautions for fishing. If your seizures are uncontrolled, 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.
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.
If your seizures have been totally controlled for some time, 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 in order to avoid injury to yourself or other people. You could discuss this with the staff at the gym and ask for a safety assessment.
There’s no reason why having epilepsy should stop you going hiking or rambling. If your seizures are not controlled, it’s a good idea to go with someone who knows what to do if you have a seizure. The Ramblers Association has information on safety aspects of rambling and hiking for people with epilepsy.
Horse riding can be safe for people whose seizures are well controlled, or who 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 supervised by someone walking alongside the horse.
There is no reason why you shouldn’t use these. 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 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.
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 your epilepsy is not controlled, you should ideally go with someone else and/or have a mobile phone with you to call for help if necessary.
It is recommended by the British Sub-Aqua Club that you are free from awake seizures and off medication for five years if you want to go scuba diving. If you only have seizures while asleep, you should be seizure-free and off medication for three years.
Cross country and downhill skiing can both be enjoyed by many people with epilepsy. However, if your seizures are not well controlled, 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.
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.
There are no specific safety precautions. But if you are still having seizures, it would be a good idea to check with your doctor before you take up 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.
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 facilities about any special requirements you may have
- Use a floating/buoyancy aid
- Think safety at all times
- 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)
- 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 partial 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
- When you believe the person has swallowed or breathed in water, even if they appear to be fully recovered, or
- When the person goes from one seizure to another without regaining consciousness between seizure, or
- When the seizure lasts longer than is usual for the person or, if in doubt, when the seizure continues for more than five minutes, or
- When the person has been injured
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.
Some people with epilepsy have concerns about safety on rides. Providing there are general safety precautions in place, rides do not have to be avoided. If you have frequent and/or severe seizures it would be advisable to check with your doctor.
Some attractions may involve flashing lights and these may need to be avoided by people with photosensitive epilepsy.
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 your seizures are uncontrolled, you need to consider safety issues related to 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
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 available. 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 they could trigger a seizure. More information about yoga is available from the British Wheel of Yoga (‘Sports England’ recognised national governing body for yoga).
If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. See Sport and Leisure.
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 May 2014To be reviewed May 2017