Sickle cell disease: Diet and exercise

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

Key points

  • Eating a healthy diet, drinking enough fluids and getting regular exercise can all help keep your body working at its best and help you to have more energy.
  • Aim for three to four sessions of moderate exercise a week. Start slowly and ask your health-care team for advice.
  • Not getting enough fluids can cause your blood cells to stick together and block blood vessels. To prevent this, drink eight glasses of water a day and limit caffeine and sugary drinks.

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 you eat—or don't eat—directly affect your sickle cell disease. A healthy diet is one that contains the right amount of nutrients to keep your body working at its best. Combined with regular exercise, your diet can help you have more energy and feel better throughout the day.


Teen sitting in grass with one leg stretched out while bending forward to touch her toes on that foot with both hands

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

The best type and amount of physical 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 health-care team before you start a new exercise program, or if you plan to do strenuous exercise or sports. They can give you advice about how to start safely and pace yourself. Over time, you can gradually increase the time and effort you spend at your chose activity, but remember also to take rest breaks and drink plenty of water.

Importance of fluids

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

When you have sickle cell disease, you need to take care not to become dehydrated (low on fluids). Dehydration can cause your blood cells to stick together and block blood vessels. To prevent this, drink at least eight cups of water each day (about 2 liters or 64 oz.) and avoid sugary drinks and drinks with caffeine.

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

Last updated: November 6th 2023