Sickle cell disease: Diet and exercise

PDF download is not available for Arabic and Urdu languages at this time. Please use the browser print function instead.

Diet and exercise directly affect your child’s sickle cell disease and how they feel. Read about how a healthy diet, enough water and regular exercise can help manage sickle cell disease.

Key points

  • Eating a healthy diet, drinking enough fluids and getting regular exercise can all help keep your child’s body working at its best and help them to have more energy.
  • Your child should aim for three to four sessions of moderate exercise a week. They should start slowly and ask their health-care team for advice.
  • Not getting enough fluids can cause your child’s blood cells to stick together and block blood vessels.

Although there is no special diet for sickle cell disease, it is important for people with the condition to eat a healthy diet and drink enough fluids to maintain their overall health.

Sometimes the things your child eats—or does not eat—directly affect their sickle cell disease. A healthy diet is one that contains the right amount of nutrients to keep their body working at its best. Combined with regular exercise, your child's diet can help them have more energy and feel better throughout the day.

Exercise

Whether or not someone has sickle cell disease, regular exercise promotes a healthy body and mind. If your child has sickle cell pain, however, it is best to avoid exercise that puts a lot of demand on their body. When your child exercises, they will also breathe faster to meet their body’s need for more oxygen.

The best type and amount of exercise is different for each person, but, in general, it is wise to do some moderate exercise three or four times a week. Most people learn to set their own limits based on experience.

Talk to your child's health-care provider before your child starts a new exercise program, or if they plan to do strenuous exercise or sports. The health-care team can give your child advice about how to start safely and pace themselves. Over time, they can gradually increase the time and effort they spend at their chosen activity but should remember to take rest breaks and drink plenty of water.

Importance of fluids

Often people think that a diet is just about the food they eat. But, in fact, people with sickle cell disease also need to pay attention to what they drink.

When someone has sickle cell disease, they need to take care not to become dehydrated (low on fluids). Dehydration can cause their blood cells to stick together and block blood vessels. To prevent this, your teen should drink at least eight cups of water each day (a minimum of 2 liters or 64 oz.) and avoid sugary drinks and drinks with caffeine. Younger children should always have a water bottle with them.

If you or your child notices that certain parts of their diet affect their sickle cell disease, talk to their health-care team about getting the right balance of nutrients just for them.

Last updated: February 21st 2024