A team of researchers in Brazil found that for patients with sickle cell disease (SCD), a home-based exercise program safely enabled improvements in functional capacity and cardiovascular function. This is according to results of a recent study published in PLoS One.

SCD carries a risk of pain crises and other medical complications and, according to the study investigators, historically there has been a concern that physical exercise could exacerbate some complications in patients with this condition. However, recent research has suggested safety may be achieved with exercise programs for patients with SCD, the study investigators noted in their report.

Adult patients with SCD were recruited for this prospective, controlled study through an outpatient medical center in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for evaluation of a regular home-based physical exercise program. Patients were assigned to either an experimental group (14 patients) that received the exercise intervention or to a control group (13 patients). One inclusion criterion for this study was that patients could not have had sickle cell crises in the prior 30 days.

Continue Reading

Participants were assessed by clinical evaluations and cardiovascular tests at baseline and after 8 weeks; the patients in the exercise group were assigned to exercise at a frequency of 3 to 5 times per week for a total of 8 weeks. Exercise was expected to be performed with specific parameters for heart rate and time, which varied over the course of the program. Patients in this group were monitored through a combination of reporting, weekly phone calls, and outpatient appointments. The control group was to maintain normal daily activities for 8 weeks.

Patients in the exercise group showed a significant increase in walking distance on a treadmill (P <.01). They also showed improvements in left ventricular ejection fraction (P <.01) and in 2 parameters of left ventricular diastolic function (P =.04 for each) based on transthoracic echocardiography.

Sickle cell pain crises were not observed with the exercise program. Hospitalizations or related infectious episodes also did not occur during the 8-week study period.

“This study demonstrated a favorable impact on treadmill test and echocardiographic parameters after the eight-week exercise training program for patients with SCD using a home-based program,” the researchers concluded in their report. The researchers cautioned that further research should be conducted to identify optimal, safe exercise practices for this patient population.


De Araujo Jr JA, Antonelli Rossi DA, Carneiro Valadão TF, et al. Cardiovascular benefits of a home-based exercise program in patients with sickle cell disease. PLoS One. 2021;16(5):e0250128. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0250128