4 Ways To Stay Fit With Sickle Cell

african american man exercise tiredChronic 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.

READ: Managing Sickle Cell Pain

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.

READ: Take The Gallon Of Water Challenge!

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).

READ: Walking For Health

3. Yoga: Stress can be a sickle cell pain trigger and the practice of yoga is proven to relieve stress in the mind, body and spirit. Learning to breathe properly is a large part of the yoga practice and the increased oxygen intake helps the circulation of blood. Bikram “hot yoga” may be all the craze, but it is NOT for you if you have sickle cell. Stick to a gentle flow like yin yoga, restorative yoga or hatha.

READ: 6 Reasons You Should Try Yoga

4. Swimming/Water aerobics (heated):  Cold air and cold water is shockng to the body and can bring on a SCD pain crisis. However, even with sickle cell you can enjoy the benefits of low-impact water aerobics and swimming in an indoor heated pool. Before entering the pool, take a warm shower to avoid a sudden change in body temperature that can bring on a pain episode. Wrap yourself in a towel immediately after getting out of the pool.

READ: Disabled? You Can Still Exercise!

Remember to rest when you feel tired and always consult with your doctor first before starting or changing your fitness regimen.

Visit the BlackDoctor.org Sickle Cell Anemia center for more.