If you’re one of the 37 million adults in the U.S. with kidney disease, exercise can help you manage your condition. While exercise can’t “heal” kidney damage, it can make you stronger, both physically and mentally.
Physical activity is also a great way to help control the underlying conditions that may have led to your reduced kidney function.
If you have kidney disease, it’s important to set activity goals in collaboration with your care team.
Here is what to know about exercise for kidney disease.
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What Causes Kidney Disease?
Your kidneys are busy organs. Their biggest job is clearing toxins from the bloodstream. They also help make red blood cells, keep bones strong, and help control blood pressure.
Doctors check your kidney function through a blood test. They are looking for how well your kidneys can clear creatinine, a waste product that comes from your muscles. “When creatinine can’t get out of the body, it’s a tip that your kidneys are struggling to keep up,” Dr. Huston says.
Doctors use a calculation called the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) to look at how well your kidneys are clearing creatinine. Ultimately, this is an estimate of your kidney function.
Above 90 is a good guideline for GFR, and roughly correlates with 90 to 100% kidney function. A number down into the 30s and 40s means greatly reduced kidney function and a later stage of kidney disease.
Your risk for kidney disease goes up with age. Kidney stones, auto-immune disorders, diabetes, and cancer treatment can also impact your kidneys.
The two main causes of kidney disease in adults are diabetes and high blood pressure.
Lifestyle Changes and Exercise for Kidney Disease
Maintaining a healthy diet is a critical component of kidney disease care. That’s because the food you eat becomes waste that your kidneys have to get rid of.
The four key lifestyle changes that can help combat the underlying causes of kidney disease for most people are:
- Avoiding salt.
- Keeping blood sugar in check.
- Losing weight.
Exercising gets triple-billing. It not only has its own set of benefits, but it can also help you control blood sugar and lose weight.
Regular exercise may help you reduce the number of daily pills you need for these conditions. This means less impact on your kidneys.
What Type of Exercise Is Best for People With Kidney Disease?
The type of exercise you do, and how much of it you do, depends entirely on your goals. If your goal is simply to live a healthy life, perhaps a vigorous running program wouldn’t be right for you. You might get what you need from walking and some simple strength training exercises.
However, if you’re a competitive runner and want to get back to racing, for example, you can work with your care team to develop a safe exercise plan aimed at accomplishing your goals.
People who have kidney disease due to an auto-immune disorder, like lupus, will have unique considerations, too. Too much exercise can sometimes lead to a lupus flare-up.
The Importance of Hydration When Exercising with Kidney Disease
For most people, drinking to quench thirst is perfectly adequate as a guide for how much to water to drink.
But people with kidney disease have to be more careful, because they’re at risk for an acute kidney injury. Dehydration can cause this sudden worsening of kidney disease.
Talk with your care team about your hydration plan and how much exercise is best for you. It’s important to rehydrate and rest if you become thirsty while exercising.
UPMC experts advise anyone with kidney disease to work with their nephrologist to figure out the right exercise and hydration plan. This can include a plan for replenishing electrolytes, as well as when to take blood pressure medication. (Blood pressure medication can increase the risk of dehydration while exercising.)
Learn more about kidney disease care at UPMC.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
The UPMC Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) Center is a joint program between UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. We provide long-term care for adolescents, young adults, maternal patients, and adults with congenital heart disease. Our goal is to provide complete care from your childhood all the way through your life. Our team of experts has a wide knowledge of heart conditions.