Can exercise reduce seizures in children with epilepsy? Study aims to find out

May 1, 2014

When most people talk about physical activity, they think of cardiovascular heThree young friends running on a path outdoors smilingalth. However, a body of evidence suggests exercise can also be an important factor in reducing seizures in children with epilepsy. This is the focus of an EpLink study led by Dr. Gabriel Ronen.

Ronen, a researcher from McMaster University, is conducting a study on the benefits of exercise for children living with epilepsy. The study is monitoring a group of children with epilepsy who are involved in a walking program and comparing their seizure numbers to children with epilepsy who are not participating in regular exercise.

The researchers’ hypothesis is that children with epilepsy who get regular exercise will have fewer seizures.

Existing studies indicate that people who exercise regularly show enhanced scores on perception when their cognition is tested, with improvements in concentration, verbal abilities, reading skills and arithmetic.

Studies also show increased exercise is particularly beneficial to children in primary and middle school. Research also indicates that increased exercise can decrease the impact of conditions such as depression and anxiety, both of which are known to contribute to seizures in some people with epilepsy.

As part of the ongoing study, about 70 children and youths aged eight to 15 are participating in a walking program hosted at McMaster Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Participants walk with pedometers to measure the distance walked on an ongoing basis for six months, with seizures charted. For the next six months the children are monitored to see if there are sustained benefits.

Ronen and his team are trying to determine if exercise in children can change genetic functioning in the brain through a phenomenon called epigenetics. Through epigenetics, gene expressions can be manipulated, changing their function.  

“It seems that exercise may up-regulate certain gene expressions that improve certain brain factors,” Ronen tells Voices of Epilepsy. “We believe that exercise may have an epigenetic effect that certain positive brain substances increase and some of the deleterious effects on the brain decrease.”

There are existing studies suggesting increased physical activity in adults may improve medical and psychosocial aspects, but there are no such studies in children, Ronen says.

This is the gap he and his team are filling through their work.

Established by the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI), the EpLink program is unique in Canada. EpLink involves more than 25 researchers working at nine different university and hospital sites across Ontario. EpLink also encompasses five industry partners and five nonprofit advocacy groups.

On March 5, 2013, the province committed to injecting $100 million over five years to OBI, which, in turn, means the program will be funded until 2018.

Writer: Deron Hamel

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