The Benefits of Exercise for Epilepsy – How to Raise Your Seizure Threshold

There are many factors that can determine whether you will be prone to seizures. While the ketogenic diet can be excellent in preventing seizures, another great factor in preventing seizures is the oxygen content in your body. Exercise can increase the oxygen content in the body.


Seizure Threshold is Controlled by the Brain CO2 and O2 Levels

Seizures and the seizure threshold are controlled by the amount of carbon dixoide and oxygen levels in the brain. Under normal conditions, electrical signals travel among nerve cells. The electrical signal is transmitted from one nerve cell to another only when the voltage or strength of the signal is high enough. The strength of the signal has a certain threshold. The threshold of excitability of the nerve cells directly relates to the seizure threshold. A normal value for the threshold of excitability in mammals is 50 micro volts.

If this seizure threshold remains high, or normal, the electrical signals are transmitted normally. You will have regular movements. Learning and adaptation are normal. In order to have a positive effect on the biological system, in terms of learning, survival and self-defense, it is crucial that the transmission of neuronal signals satisfies two criteria. First, these signals are transmitted and facilitated through the network of the nerve cells so

no important information is lost. Second, normal work of the senses, memory storage, memory retrieval, comparison of experiences, solution making and execution of solutions, etc.

Brain during epilepsy seizures

However, if the threshold of excitability becomes too low, accidental signals may be amplified. This causes a disruption or even a suppression in the normal work of the central and peripheral nervous systems. When the breathing pattern is disturbed, blood gases become abnormal. This common abnormality is arterial hypocapnia (low levels of CO2) and cell hypoxia (low levels of O2). Overbreathing, or breathing too quickly is the key cause for both of these conditions.


How CO2 and O2 influence threshold for a seizure

Brain hyperventilation effectsThe nerve cell’s excitability threshold is very sensitive to and dependent upon both the O2 and CO2 concentration in nerve tissues. Lower oxygen levels create tissue hypoxia and an acidic cellular environment. Low CO2 levels create abnormal excitability of the nerve cells.

Neurologists know that hyperventilation, or low CO2 levels, will trigger excitability in the brain. This is what they are testing for during an electroencephalogram test. It is why they have you hyperventilate during the test. They are looking for the level of excitability. Hyperventilation leads to spontaneous and asynchronous firing of the neurons. Therefore, when you hyperventilate, or breathe too quickly, the oxygen and carbon dixoide levels become abnormally low. This results in accidental or weak electrical signals which can be strengthened and relayed through some parts of the brain interfering with the normal signals. These low levels of CO2 and O2 lower the seizure threshold and make you more susceptible to seizures.


Irregular breathing patterns cause seizures

Between 70-100% of people with epilepsy can lower their seizure threshold and trigger their seizures through voluntary hyperventilation. Studies have discovered that hyperventilation could cause seizures in all patients. Unfortunately, modern medical research has failed to discover the exact CO2 and O2 threshold that will induce seizures in susceptible individuals. This will be an individual level due to the fact that there are many other factors that influence the transmission of electrical signals in the brain, including surrounding neuronal activity, distribution of electrical firing, the current metabolic rate, body posture, physical exercise, thermoregulation, oxygen tension, calcium and magnesium ions, changes in glia cells, the concentration of neurotransmitters, and amino acids can all play a role.

Hypocapnia is the crucial necessary background in lowering seizure threshold and the appearance of seizures. However, there are many other factors that can contribute to seizures. You can implement many different natural cures for epilepsy to prevent seizures.

There are numerous medical studies which have proven that hyperventilation reliably induces seizures in people with epilepsy. This confirms that seizure threshold is controlled by breathing with limited contribution from other factors.


Exercise and the CO2 and O2 Levels

Man: exercise effects - tiredPeople with epilepsy have abnormal blood breathing at rest. Therefore, they have abnormal blood gases prior to exercise. Often, they suffer from arterial hypoxia, especially if they are chest breathers. Chest breathing reduces oxygen levels in arterial blood.

If they have issues with lungs or ventilation-perfusion mismatch, which happens in a small group of patients with severe asthma, emphysema or bronchitis, the arterial CO2 is too high. It can be up to 50-60 mm Hg. When this occurs, blood oxygenation is low already at rest. This causes dyspnea, a shortness of breath sensation, even during low intensity exercise.

When people with epilepsy overbreathe at rest, it reduces their body-oxygen levels. Many people with epilepsy have elevated blood lactate at rest, indicating the presence of cell hypoxia and anaerobic cellular respiration. Mild exercise will generate even more lactic acid due to initial oxygen deficiency. (This is one reason people don’t like to exercise.)

Since lactic acid is controlled by the respiratory system, the body starts to remove bicarbonates (CO2) from the blood by increased ventilation. In order to maintain blood pH in the normal range, the breathing center intensifies minute ventilation to remove some CO2 from the body. Breathing then becomes disproportionally heavier.

Mouth breathing further reduces the arterial and cellular CO2, creating brain hypoxia and increasing the heart rate. Nasal breathing, on the other hand, will prevent CO2 and nasal nitric oxide losses. It improves brain and heart oxygen content if the intensity of the exercise matches the oxygen delivery.

Overbreathing caused by mouth breathing during exercise can impact your breathing and blood gas levels for hours after exercise if it is too intensive or anaerobic. Exercise with low intensities will be better tolerated, but mouth breathing still will negate any improvements in heart and body oxygen levels, which can cancel positive long term effects of exercise on the respiratory system. People with epilepsy can have seizures due to moderate or intensive exercise combined with other hyperventilation inducing factors, such as stress, overeating, a drop in blood glucose and chest breathing.

Unfortunately, many coaches and fitness instructors teach athletes and students to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth as a way to improve the long-term effects of exercise. This breathing technique is only half as good as nasal breathing only.


The Best Exercise for Body Oxygen

Soviet and Russian medical doctors studied a large group of patients. They determined that nasal breathing during exercise is the key factor that will maximize positive short and long term effects of exercise on the respiratory system. Nasal breathing during exercise prevents any acute episodes, including coronary spasms, angina pains, infarcts, strokes asthma attacks and seizures. Nasal breathing also ensures the absorption of nitric oxide generated in the sinuses and inhaled into the lungs during nose breathing.

Physical exercise was the main factor that made the breathing and body-oxygen content of our predecessors much better. Many of these individuals were exercising up to 8-12 hours per day. This includes walking, gardening, and all type of activities where the whole body is moving. Mouth breathing was socially unacceptable. Athletes were breathing strictly through the nose during training sessions.


Due to the industrial revolution, the average amount of exercise declined to 10-60 minutes per day. Many people stated breathing through their mouth during exercise. This led to more heart attacks, asthma, strokes and exercise induced asthma attacks. Physical exercise with mouth breathing therefore became a serious hazard.

Physical exercise with nasal breathing is the main factor that defines the long-term success during breathing retraining, according to Dr. Buteyko. A lack of physical exercise is the main cause of hyperventilation and hyperventilation can lead to seizures. Therefore, one of the main benefits of exercise for epilepsy is improved seizure control.

It is ideal to start your nasal breathing with a low-intensity exercise that you can maintain for an extended period of time. Walking is the best exercise to start out with. It can easily be done anywhere at any time. Nasal breathing can be incorporated easily during walking. You can increase the intensity of walking as you become more and more proficient at exercising with nasal breathing.







5 thoughts on “The Benefits of Exercise for Epilepsy – How to Raise Your Seizure Threshold”

  1. I found this article extremely interesting. My son had a seizure on a flight to Spain back in October and I was asked all sorts of questions about his activity levels and how he deals with exercise at the hospital. They were trying to see if he was epileptic I suppose but I had no idea. Turned out to be a febrile convulsion due to a high temperature. You mentioned Nitric oxide a few times. I know this is a vasodilator and improves exercise tolerance. Is there any diet changes a person with epilepsy can make to help increase nitric oxide levels in the body before exercise? I read a few studies a while ago about the amino acid L-arginine being the pre-curser to Nitric oxide so maybe supplements or a diet high in this amino acid could help?

    1. A ketogenic diet that has meat in it is very helpful for people with epilepsy. I would steer clear of vegetarian ketogenic diets though as they won’t have the necessary nutrients to prevent seizures.
      A great supplement for epilepsy is CBD oil. Many people are finding relief for inflammation through CBD oil. It is unknown why CBD oil prevents seizures, but I suspect it has to do with its anti-inflammatory properties.

  2. Seizures, are they something that could be passed down through generations?

    Breathing correctly through exercise is something we think we know about, but I wasn’t aware that breathing through the nose as opposed to mouth had such a big impact.

    I run and cycle and I know that I breathe through the mouth more, because it is easier and allows you to take large amounts of oxygen as opposed to small amounts which breathing through the nose would allow. The next time I am out I will try and focus more!

    1. Great! I’m glad that you learned something. It does seem easier initially, but once you get the hang of nasal breathing only, you’ll discover that your health improves greatly!

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