Sports, Exercise, & Bleeding Disorders: How to Stay Fit Safely

Physical activity is beneficial for several reasons. Here are a few ways you can stay fit safely and thrive by living a healthier lifestyle.
Author: James Langford

Staying active is imperative for people with inheritable blood and bleeding disorders. It helps you retain and regain joint health, prevent mobility issues, and leads to a better quality of life. And while it’s true that some fitness routines and sports can be risky for people with inheritable blood and bleeding disorders, sitting still is not a safer alternative.

The key is learning how to manage the risks that come with inheritable blood and bleeding disorders rather than trying to eliminate them completely. That requires fully understanding your disorder’s symptoms and treatments, and then determining which sports and exercises you enjoy and can do safely.

According to the Steps for Living web resource, “the risk of injury or bleeding depends on the activity. When choosing a sport or exercise routine, it’s important to consider your body type, past bleeding history, and the condition of your joints. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.”

Fitness Starts at the Core

The more you know about your condition and your body, the better equipped you will be to choose the sports and exercises that are right for you.

Keep in mind that while advances in prophylaxis — treatments that can prevent or lower the risk of bleeding episodes — have made a variety of activities safer, a physical injury may still cause bleeding, according to “Playing It Safe: Bleeding Disorders, Sports and Exercise,” a publication of the National Bleeding Disorders Foundation.

That means planning ahead is important.

“Ideally,” the authors say, “activity should take place soon after treatment, when your factor level is at a peak.”

Overall, the authors add, regular physical activity is good for everyone. Benefits range from building healthy bones and joints to boosting self-esteem, increasing “good” cholesterol, and decreasing weight and anxiety.

Keeping fit also lowers the risk of developing spontaneous joint bleeds, high blood pressure, and other conditions.

It can also help your bleeding disorder treatments work better, according to Exercise is Medicine, a global health initiative managed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

ACSM offers four tips toward building a more active lifestyle:

  • Keep it simple. Start by sitting less and moving around more, perhaps by walking the dog and taking the stairs instead of elevators.
  • Talk with your doctor beforehand about your inheritable blood or bleeding disorder and ways you can exercise safely.
  • Try non-contact activities such as brisk walking, swimming, and tai chi.
  • Exercise with a friend.

Once you’ve started, consistency and continuity are the keys to success.

Remember, “moderate aerobic activity for 30 minutes every day will give you better long-term results than exercising for a longer amount of time only once a week,” according to Steps for Living. By developing core muscles — abdominals, lower back, hips, and pelvis — “you build strength, balance, and stability, giving you better control over your body.”

Ways to Get Healthy and Play It Safe

Activities that are generally safer for people with inheritable blood and bleeding disorders include archery, elliptical machines and stationary bikes, Frisbee, hiking, and snorkeling, according to “Playing It Safe.”

Moderately risky choices include aerobics, dance, cardio kickboxing, and roller-skating. Dangerous activities include football, hockey, outdoor rock climbing, motorcycle racing, and powerlifting.

Preparation and safety considerations typically vary by age, according to “Playing It Safe” and Hemophilia of Georgia, which offer the following guidelines:

For Kids and Teens

  • Giving children a chance to participate in sports when it’s possible helps ensure they get the exercise needed to develop strong musculoskeletal systems, which studies show may curb spontaneous bleeding episodes.
  • If you are worried that bleeding episodes will keep your child from participating, encourage them to choose sports that offer the best chances of success.
  • If your child has hemophilia, consider how much joints or muscles have been damaged. Someone with arthritis in the elbow, for example, might avoid tennis.
  • Consider the amount of body contact required by the sport.
  • Remember that sports such as soccer and basketball are fun and safe for younger children but can grow more competitive and riskier as kids age.
  • Regardless of what sport your child chooses, make sure clotting factor and emergency care are nearby in case of injury.

For Adults

  • Think about how your joints respond to treatment. If you have had spontaneous ankle bleeds, for instance, swimming may be a better choice than jogging.
  • While less competitive than organized sports, pickup games may offer less access to safety gear.
  • You may try several sports or exercises before finding the right one, and you may get hurt now and then in any of them, but the benefits still outweigh the risks.
  • Low-contact sports like swimming or golf offer fewer chances of getting hurt and are safer for most people with inheritable blood and bleeding disorders.
  • No matter what you do, make sure clotting factor and emergency care are nearby in case of injury.

With a little research and advanced planning, you can be sure that you’re exercising safely and effectively.