Exercise and keeping fit
Exercise helps to keep your body healthy and strong. It can improve wellbeing and even reduce the symptoms of some health problems. However, it can be hard to keep to a regular exercise routine if you have long term kidney conditions and particularly if you have treatments such as dialysis.
This leaflet outlines the types of exercise that are recommended for people with kidney problems and gives advice on the best ways in which to exercise.
It is important to speak to your medical team before starting a new exercise programme to make sure that it is suitable for your individual health situation. They may also be able to put you in touch with a physiotherapist who can help you work out the best exercise programme for your lifestyle.
How can exercise help me as a kidney patient?
Exercise helps give you extra energy to move around, carry out your daily tasks and enjoy your leisure time. Other benefits may include:
- Improved diabetes control
- Improved sleep
- Improved mood and general quality of life
- Increase in dialysis efficiency
- Healthier bones
- Stronger muscles
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower stress levels
What type of exercise should I do?
Continuous activities are likely to be most beneficial for people with kidney disease as they involve steady, whole body moments.
- Walking – a pedometer can be a good way of monitoring your progress
- Cycling outdoors or on an exercise bike
Strength exercises such as moderate weight lifting and aerobic routines can also be beneficial.
You may need to avoid contact sports such as hockey and rugby, as well heavy weight lifting, depending on your kidney condition.
Talk to your kidney team about what activities are safe for you to do.
Exercise doesn't have to cost money. Walking the dog around your local park or spending some time gardening can be just as beneficial as a gym membership. Some dialysis units have exercise equipment that you can use while you dialyse so talk to your kidney team to see what is available.
It is important to choose an activity that you enjoy doing as you are more likely to stick at it.
How long should I exercise for?
You should aim to exercise for around 30 minutes a day, at least three days a week. If you are not used to exercising you should build up to this level slowly over time to avoid the risk of injury.
You don't have to do all the exercise in one go. Try getting off the bus one stop earlier and walking an extra 10 minutes or doing some stretches in front of the television in the evening. Little and often can be more beneficial than doing everything in one go.
When should I exercise?
It is best to spread your exercise out across the week rather than doing it all on consecutive days and then nothing for the rest of the week. Some weeks you may feel able to do more exercise than others depending on how well you feel. It is important to listen to what your body is telling you and not do too much in one go.
You are more likely to keep to a regular exercise routine if you schedule it into your normal day. Wait for at least one hour after eating a big meal before you start exercising. You may want to avoid exercising just before going to bed as it can make it harder to get to sleep.
How hard should I exercise?
To get the most benefit out of exercising you need to 'push' yourself so that you feel that you are getting active. Your breathing and heart rate should increase, but not so much that you cannot carry out a conversation while exercising. You should start each exercise session slowly to warm up your muscles, increase the speed and then slow down when you are close to finishing.
You should stop exercising if you:
- Feel very tired
- Have leg cramps
- Feel dizzy
- Become short of breath
- Have chest pain
Remember: Talk to your kidney team before starting or changing your exercise routine. You should also talk to them about exercise if your treatment schedule changes, such as an increase in dialysis sessions.
More information about CKD and exercise
The British Renal Society: Time Project Exercise free resources include an Exercise Diary, an Exercising on dialysis progress chart and an Exercise on dialysis card which demonstrates simple exercises and offers tips on how to build an exercise programme.
Exercise and keeping fit: download or order Kidney Care UK's information leaflet
You can download our Exercise and keeping fit leaflet for free.
You can also order a printed copy of Kidney Care UK’s Exercise and keeping fit leaflet to be sent to you in the post.
Kidney Beam: free online exercise for kidney patients
Kidney Beam is a free online exercise, education and wellbeing platform for people with kidney disease. They offer progressive programmes, live and on-demand classes, and community and motivational support. They aim to improve self-management skills, community connections, and physical and emotional health.
In partnership with Kidney Care UK, Kidney Beam hosts a variety of exercise classes. These include strength training, yoga, Pilates, dance and cardio fitness.
The programme also addresses needs such as regulating blood pressure, diabetes management and mobility, as well relaxation, pain management, and bone density improvement.