Graded activity and sickle cell disease

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Learn how to gradually increase your activity level and plan for active and rest days to manage sickle cell pain.

Key points

  • Find an activity that you enjoy, start slow and increase your activity level gradually.
  • If your pain doesn't get worse after two or three days of activity, you can add a few minutes of activity time and continue increasing every two or three days as long as your pain doesn't get worse.
  • Use the example graded activity schedule or create your own activity schedule to plan active and rest days.
  • If you have any pain flares, you can adjust the activity and rest times in your schedule as needed.

Graded activity means starting from a very low, baseline level of activity and gradually increasing it over the long term. 

Over several days and weeks, you can increase your activity time gradually. For example, if your pain doesn’t get worse after two or three days of activity, you can increase the activity time by a few minutes (and try to keep the rest time the same). You can keep increasing this activity time every two or three days as long as your pain doesn't worsen.

Example of graded activity

This table offers a sample graded activity schedule over a two-week period. You'll see that Week 2 involves slightly more activity, with only one day of rest in between.

Week 1Week 2
Monday
10 mins jogging or brisk walkingRest
TuesdayRest12 mins jogging or brisk walking
WednesdayRestRest
Thursday10 mins jogging or brisk walking12 mins of jogging or brisk walking
FridayRestRest
SaturdayRest12 mins jogging or brisk walking
Sunday10 mins jogging or brisk walkingRest

If you can gradually build up your activity time every two or three days without making your pain worse, you can also start to cut down your rest time, or take fewer rest periods.

Download 4-week graded activity schedule

You can download and fill in this PDF to make your own graded activity schedule. Use it to plan your daily activity and your rest days. If your circumstances change (say, you get a cold) or your pain flares up, you can adjust your activity and rest times, but try to maintain some level of activity if you can. That being said, if your health-care team has instructed you to rest completely, be sure to follow their instructions and ask them when you may return to your activity.

How much rest is enough?

How much rest you need often depends on the types of activities you are doing. For example, you might be able to do moderate aerobic activities (such as walking or cycling) every day without making your pain worse. For more vigorous activities (such as running, dancing or soccer), you might need to take one or two rest days at a time. Remember to try some type of physical activity every day that you can!


Last updated: January 4th 2024