Children need exercise. Not only for the health benefits but for the social benefits too.
Playing games like hide-and-go-seek and tag, and participating in community sports like soccer and swimming, are all important parts of growing up. Kids develop friendships and learn the basics of how to interact with others. Most importantly, they have fun.
Unfortunately for kids with sickle cell anemia, they can’t participate in this part of childhood. As awful as it sounds, it’s a precautionary measure most researchers believe is necessary to protect the child from exacerbating symptoms. The primary symptom? Inflammation.
Not only does inflammation cause extreme pain, it can perpetuate the clogging of blood vessels. Although there are studies that show regular exercise can decrease inflammation over time, there is also clear evidence that it increases inflammation short term.
Researcher Robert Liem, MD, from Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, believes that with safety guidelines, exercise can be performed without provoking symptoms.
Ultimately, Liem and his research team think exercise could have a beneficial impact on the disease and actually improve the quality of life for those living with sickle cell.
But that’s a query for a future clinical trial.
Dr. Liem’s study is being funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) through a grant of 2.7 million dollars. It will span five years and occur at multiple different centers. Researchers will be analyzing 70 children living with sickle cell and 70 children who don’t have the disease. They will examine:
- The effect of exercise on inflammation
- The effect of exercise on lung function (because asthma-like breathing issues typically increase with inflammation)
- The effect of exercise on genes (to discover which specific genes turn on in response to exercise)
Yes, children with sickle cell have to be more careful in their daily lives than children without it. But we’re hoping this study will show it’s still possible for these kids to participate in the fun experiences they deserve.
Yes, they have an illness, but it shouldn’t dictate their childhood.
Read more about the study here.