Sickle cell and exercise? Where in the world do these two go together?
One of the most common complications of sickle cell disease (SCD) is a Chronic pain. 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.
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 crisis. Stay well hydrated at all times, but particularly before, during and after a workout.
The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, and research has shown there are several health benefits to walking at least 30 minutes 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 MORE: Sickle Cell Anaemia – The Episodes
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.
Cold air and cold water is shocking to the body and can bring on an SCD pain crisis. However, even with sickle cell you can enjoy the benefits of low-impact water aerobics and swim 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.
A good warm-up gets your muscles nice and supple and ready to work out. Without stretching you are at a higher risk for injury and pain. Stretching also gives you time to connect with your body and kind of feel what you need to get done in that day and see if you are up for it. However, when you begin to notice small pains at your back, know that this is a warning sign that you need to take it easy during that workout session.
Remember to rest when you feel tired and always consult with your doctor first before starting or changing your fitness regimen.