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Sickle Cell Disease – Should Sickle Cell Patients Exercise?


Sickle Cell Disease – Should Sickle Cell Patients Exercise?

The common question, “Should sickle cell patients exercise?” deserves a clear answer.  While exercise benefits your health in many ways, historically, it has been considered too dangerous for anyone living with sickle cell disease (SCD). However, according to a new study, low-to moderate-intensity exercise is not only safe but also beneficial to sickle cell patients.

How Much Exercise is Safe for People with Sickle Cell Disease?

Regular exercise is safe and healthy for people with SCD. However, they should keep it mild and also take breaks in the course. Intense exercise and strenuous activities can trigger pain crises and other health complications because it increases blood flow.

The muscle tissue in sickle cell patients contains fewer blood vessels and that obstructs normal oxygen delivery. Having exercise in moderation can help people living with SCD to develop new blood vessels in their muscles. This can help their blood and oxygen delivery to improve, hence, their overall well-being.

Here is what mild exercise improves in people living with SCD:

·       General physical ability

·       Muscle function

·       Sleep quality

·       Social interactions

·       Concentration

Right now, large-scale clinical trials are underway to determine how to use mild exercise as a therapy in SCD.

Are there Safe and Healthy Exercises for People with SCD?

Yes! A few and low-intensity aerobic exercises top the list. These exercises help SCD patients’ hearts to beat faster, enabling them to use more oxygen. However, as a sickle cell patient, you have to pace yourself, take breaks, and be gentle to avoid any physical exertion. 

Here are a few low-intensity exercises you can do:

·        Brisk walking or hiking

·        Moderte dance fitness

·        Outside or spin class biking

·        Swimming

·        Rowing

Discuss with your doctor about mild exercises that work for you and how to make them part of your lifestyle.

How Can Exercise Affect Athletes with Sickle Cell Trait?

Though people with sickle cell trait are considered healthier because they don’t have the sickled red blood cells or disease, they can still experience heat stroke and muscle breakdown during intense exercise or strenuous activities.

As an athlete with sickle cell trait, you can avoid health complications by:

·        Setting your own pace and building intensity slowly

·        Taking breaks often in between sets and drills

·        Maintaining a cool body temperature in hot temperatures

·        Drinking a lot of water for hydration, before, during, and after exercise

·        Stopping activities once you experience weakness, breathlessness, cramping, pain, swelling, etc

·        Controlling asthma

·        Seeking medical help immediately you feel ill or experience symptoms

Apart from personally seeking screening, sports institutions need to introduce screening to identify athletes with sickle cell trait. They can also create a suitable environment for athletes to report symptoms.

From the above explanation, it’s clear that mild physical exercise or activities are not only safe but also beneficial to people living with sickle cell disease or trait and many studies support it. So, sickle cell patients may take part in sports for fun, but not competitive sports or anything that involves overexertion, overheating or dehydration, to avoid setting off a life-threatening crisis.



Photo of the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown, New Zealand.

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