Hemophilia and Exercise

Staying in shape is a key part of managing hemophilia.

Hemophilia and sports - swimming

Exercise has proven health benefits, and it’s important that people with hemophilia don’t miss out on them. By choosing the right exercises and taking safety precautions while performing them, people with hemophilia can enjoy better overall health, as well as fewer complications related to hemophilia.

Why Exercise Is Important for People with Hemophilia

It may seem safest to avoid physical activity if you have hemophilia. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that doctors recommended against exercise for people with hemophilia. But exercise can be safe for people with this blood clotting condition, and avoiding exercise can have serious consequences, including obesity.

A study published in Obesity Reviews found that about one-third of European and North American people with hemophilia are overweight or obese. That’s a more than 20 percent increase from 10 years ago.

Obesity increases everyone’s risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and some kinds of cancer. But in people with hemophilia, excess weight may also increase the risk of bleeds because of the extra pressure it puts on joints. Multiple joint bleeds can lead to hemophilic arthropathy, which can result in chronic pain.

The Safest Ways for People with Hemophilia to Exercise

Some people with hemophilia avoid sports and other forms of exercise in order to avoid injuries that could lead to dangerous excessive bleeding. But, according to the National Hemophilia Foundation (NHF) in the U.S., research shows exercise can have positive benefits for those with the bleeding disorder.

So how can a person with hemophilia take part in sports or physical activity while staying safe? The NHF’s guide, “Playing It Safe: Bleeding Disorders, Sports and Exercise,” says it depends on the severity of an individual’s condition. The NHF rates the risk of physical activities on a 1-3 scale, with low risk activities given a ‘1’ designation.

All of the activities listed below carry a ‘1’ or “low risk” designation from the NHF.

Walking

It’s simple. It’s free. It can be done inside or outside, by yourself or with friends. And studies have shown that moderate-intensity walking reduces the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease about as well as vigorous running does.

Swimming

Swimming is "fun" (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people report enjoying water-based exercises more than land-based ones) and it’s great exercise, but it is also a low-impact workout that’s easy on your joints.

Golf

Skip the cart if you can: The World Golf Foundation says golfers who walk an 18-hole course cover about 5 miles, get in over 10,000 steps and burn up to 2,000 calories. To avoid injury, the NHF suggests golfers develop a solid swing technique and warm up with flexibility exercises and practice swings.

Spinning

The safest form of cycling for those with hemophilia takes place indoors, on a stationary bike. Spinning is a total body workout that can burn hundreds of calories per hour. But it’s also easy on your joints.

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Safety Precautions

Once you settle on an activity, the NHF suggests you meet with your healthcare provider for an evaluation and a thorough musculoskeletal exam before getting started. It might also be worth beginning a training program to get your body up to speed.

Also, you can follow these tips to exercise safely with hemophilia:

  • Warm up, cool down, and stretch before and after exercise to reduce your risk of injury
  • Wear the right gear, such as comfortable, good-fitting sneakers
  • Wear a medical identification bracelet to help you get appropriate treatment as quickly as possible in case you are injured
  • Have a charged cell phone with you so you can call for help
  • Know the signs of a bleed and seek treatment right away if you recognize them

As medical breakthroughs help people with hemophilia live longer, their risk of chronic health conditions associated with aging, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, increases. Being overweight further increases these risks, as well as the risks of bleeds from weight-related stress on joints. But by regularly taking part in safe forms of exercise, people with hemophilia can keep their weight down and lower their risk of health problems.