Chronic pain is one of the most common complications of sickle cell disease (SCD). Avoiding activities that can trigger a full blown pain “episode” or “crisis” is key to staying healthy and out of the ER, and for some, this includes avoiding exercise. But, it doesn’t have to.
Strenuous exercise, like taking a boot camp class or hiking, reduces oxygen levels in the blood and may cause red blood cells to sickle. The cells become hard and sticky C shapes and as they travel through tiny blood vessels, they can become stuck and painfully clog blood flow. Low – to moderate-impact exercise, on the other hand, can help to increase oxygen, keep blood circulating and flowing smoothly and help to alleviate pain symptoms.
Here are four ways to stay fit and make exercise a safe part of your sickle cell crisis prevention.
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1. Drink LOTS of water: Dehydration – a loss of fluid – can slow down the blood flow in the body, increasing the chance of having a pain episode. Stay well hydrated at all times, but particularly before, during and after a workout.
2. Walking: The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, and research has shown there are several health benefits to walking at least 30 minutues a day. If keeping a slow, steady pace, oxygen consumption will also stay steady. Walking on flat terrain is less taxing on the body, so treadmill walking is a good option since you can control the incline (unlike outdoor walking).