Exercise for sick children: how much is enough?

04 August 2014
Sports medicine

The last thing 7 year old Jacob felt like doing during his long stay in hospital was exercising – but taking part in a research study on exercise and bone marrow transplant patients got him on his feet and moving again.

Jacob needed a bone marrow transplant to treat his aplastic anaemia. Like other children who receive this life-saving procedure, it meant he had to spend many weeks in bed as an inpatient at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

“These kids are encouraged to rest and there is no real incentive to be active. But that means they lose fitness and strength,” says Tina Cheng, the Children's Hospital Institute of Sports Medicine exercise physiologist who conducted the study.

While he was recovering, Tina would visit Jacob every day with balls, badminton raquets and balloons, a Wii or just some encouragement to get up and walk. Like the other children who took part in the study, it improved his mood and helped him to keep active.

“It was good to see him get out of bed and do something. It took his mind off how sick he was feeling, even made him laugh,” says his father, Bernard.

“He’s not that strong and he still has issues with his motor skills due to congenital heart disease and problems with his feet, so in spite of what he was going through at the time, the exercise  was good for him. It got him up on his feet, swinging his arms around and using his coordination.”

Jacob, now 9, is back at school and enjoying cycling and cricket, and is eager to train with his younger brother’s rugby league team. Researchers at the Kids Research Institute are continuing to study the best exercise recommendations for children after their bone marrow transplants. “I think we were all impressed at how much they were able to do,” said Tina.

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