Exercise can help to keep you mobile, healthy and strong. It can even lift your mood and help you sleep better.
It can be of benefit to you, whatever your age or stage of kidney disease. And although treatments like dialysis can sometimes make it difficult to stick to a regular exercise routine there’s still a lot you can do to make sure you keep active.
What are the benefits of exercise?
Regular exercise can help to...
- Reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Improve your breathing and stamina
- Reduce your weight, tone up your muscles and strengthen your ligaments and bones
- Make dialysis sessions more efficient at removing waste from your blood
- Improve your diabetes control
- Lower your stress levels, lift low moods and increase your confidence
- Reduce your risk of falls, especially if you are older.
How long should I exercise for?
Try to build up to 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, three to five times each week. It’s better to exercise across the week too, rather than having several days of no exercise.
You can start by building up to 10 minute blocks of activity or exercise and gradually progress from there. These 10 minute blocks can be added throughout the day, and throughout the week.
What type of exercise should I do?
Brisk walking, swimming, jogging and cycling are ideal ways to exercise – and so are many day-to-day activities:
- Gardening for just 15 minutes is roughly the same as walking 1,200 steps – it’s even higher if you mow the lawn.
- Housework counts as exercise too – and it can be a great stress-reliever.
- Taking the stairs instead of the lift or parking the car a little further from the shops can both help to make you more active.
Exercises for restricted mobility
If you have restricted mobility, there are many exercises that can be done from a chair including:
- Alternate leg raises
- Raising your arms in front of you and out to the sides while holding a small bottle of water or a baked bean can in each hand
- Deep breathing exercises.
But always talk to your kidney team before starting any form of new exercise or changing your normal exercise routine. Get in touch too if your treatments change, for example if your dialysis sessions are increased. You can ask your kidney unit if they have access to a physiotherapist if you would like specific advice on the best exercises for you.
Warm up and cool down
Whatever form of exercise you choose, always remember to start slowly, gradually increase your speed and effort and then slow down again towards the end of your session. This will help to prevent muscle strain and help the heart and lungs prepare for exercise.
A warm up or cool down should feel at an 'easy' effort level. How long you warm up for depends on how long you plan to exercise for. For example, if you are exercising for 20 minutes, your warm up and cool down might be a few minutes.
If you are exercising for an hour, ideally your warm up and cool down should be at least 10 minutes each.
If you’ve had a kidney transplant and are generally well you should be able to do most forms of exercise. But transplanted kidneys are less protected (due to being usually placed into the pelvis) so it may be advisable to avoid ‘contact’ sports including:
- hockey (ice and field)
- martial arts
Some activities can be made safer by protective padding and extra caution, but always seek advice first from your transplant team.
Some kidney patients have taken part in the British Transplant Games, the World Transplant Games, climbed mountains and gone skiing, to mention just a few things. Of course, not everyone can do these things, but having kidney disease need not be the end of an active lifestyle.
- Find something you enjoy – The gym is not for everyone! By picking an activity or form of exercise you enjoy, you are more likely to continue with it
- Give yourself a goal – Start with something small and achievable and build up your activity towards a long-term goal
- Team up – It’s much easier to stick to an activity if you’re doing it with a friend or a partner
- Track your progress – Keep a simple note in your diary or invest in an activity monitor, and remember that everyone can get fitter if you start small and build up
- Believe in yourself – It can take a few attempts to make a positive change so don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t go as smoothly as you’d imagined. What’s important to remember is that if you’ve done it once you can do it again.
Kidneys need exercise too
Keeping your heart healthy
Exercise and Keeping Fit
A leaflet from Kidney Care UK