My Views About Exercise Changed as I Grew Older

Sickle cell disease and exercise were antonyms for me growing up. I was raised with the view that they do not go hand in hand.

My parents saw how vigorous activity adversely affected my health, so they discouraged it. From primary school to secondary school, I would hand my gym teachers notes from my parents excusing me from any exercise they deemed too vigorous.

During colder seasons, I avoided sports that involved staying outdoors for long periods. I understand the reasoning: It wasn’t worth the risk of a sickle cell crisis. 

This was never something I questioned as a kid with sickle cell. I found most exercises to be exhausting, and I didn’t enjoy them at all. To be able to sit them out was a plus in my eyes, and I could spend that hour relaxing.

I never thought to bring the issue up with my healthcare professionals, and now I am sure they would have advised me to do otherwise.

As I grew up and began taking the management of my health into my own hands, I started to better understand the benefits of exercise. The range of health benefits one gains as a result of maintaining an active lifestyle is vast. These benefits include a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers, and higher self-esteem, among others. 

However, as someone with sickle cell disease, I had to take a different approach to exercise. Because of the potential consequences of fatigue and overexertion that I face as a result of exercise, I must be more careful to avoid a sickle cell crisis.

When starting a new form of exercise, I try to research the areas of my body that will be worked the most, the stretches that will help my body complete the exercise optimally, and the low-impact versions of the exercise in case I am unable to do it at full intensity.

I never expect to begin perfectly or do an exercise for a long period. I aim to start slowly, then build on what I can do as my body becomes stronger, more flexible, and more familiar with the movements.

With this approach in mind, I have set myself a new fitness goal, which in the past I never would have thought I had the chance of attaining. Over the next couple years, I would love to train and run a 5K without stopping. It may sound minuscule for many people, but it would be a huge achievement for me. When I do start training, I’ll be building my endurance incrementally.