The Importance of Exercise for People who have Chronic Kidney Disease

By Meredith Marinaro, MS, RD, CSR

Many people living with chronic kidney disease (CKD) tire easily and often feel that they don’t have the energy to exercise. However, a regular exercise program has been shown to improve energy levels and overall quality of life. Even though it may not feel possible, taking that first step can help you feel you are taking back control of your health.

Benefits of Exercise
Studies have shown that people with CKD who don’t exercise regularly tend to have reduced physical functioning and poorer quality of life than those who exercise, and that regular physical activity may improve health outcomes.3

For example, aerobic exercise training has been shown to significantly improve aerobic capacity in people with CKD, and may result in the ability to perform physical activities for longer periods of time.3 Meanwhile, resistance training can increase muscle mass, which may improve survival in people who are on hemodialysis.4 In addition, exercise may improve an individual’s sleep and good cholesterol (HDL), and it could possibly reduce the need for blood pressure medications
as well.4,2

Some studies even suggest that exercise could slow the rate of kidney disease progression, and though more research is needed to verify this, the data suggests that exercise is not harmful to kidney function.4

Just do it
Getting started with an exercise plan can seem impossible when you are managing CKD, and it can be hard to find the time and energy to fit it in, but the benefits can make it worth the effort. The Kidney Disease Improving Global Outcomes1 guidelines recommend that individuals with CKD should exercise regularly—with a goal of 30 minutes, 5 times a week—to improve cardiovascular health.1 If you are not used to exercising you can start slow and progress at your own pace toward this goal. Before starting any exercise program, be sure to speak with your doctor about the best approach for you.

Find the Time
One of the biggest issues for anyone starting an exercise program is finding time to fit it into a busy schedule. Juggling multiple doctor’s appointments or dialysis treatments adds an extra challenge, but this can be overcome by planning ahead. If you go to dialysis three times a week, try to schedule some time to be active on your days off. Do whatever works best for you. By incorporating physical activity into your life, you can take charge of this important part of your health and wellbeing.

“For twenty years, exercise has given me energy during hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, and a transplant. I have strength and stamina to do everything I want to do… like travel the world!” –Shari Gilford

How to Begin an Exercise Program

  • Start with an activity that you enjoy and are likely to continue.
  • Set small goals that you know you
    can reach.
  • Set a time to exercise every day, and stick with it.
  • Find a friend to exercise with who will support you and keep you on track.
  • Search for online exercise videos or classes that you can do in your home.
  • Lay out your exercise clothes the night before so you are ready to go when you wake up.

Fun Ways to Get Active

  • Take a walk or join a walking group
  • Try a yoga class
  • Dance
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Plant a garden
  • Go to a gym or fitness center
  • Sign up for fun classes like Zumba or Pilates

Include Your Team
Of course, it is important to check with your physician before starting any exercise plan to make sure that you are healthy enough for physical activity. Your doctor can be an excellent resource to guide you toward the type of exercise that may be best for you. Your dietitian can also help make sure that you are fueling yourself adequately. An experienced personal trainer is an excellent resource to make sure that you are performing exercises safely.

Any physical activity is better than none at all, so get out there, start moving,
and have fun!

Get your 30 minutes of exercise with personal trainer!  RSN offers fitness classes at no charge to people who have kidney disease, are on dialysis or have a kidney transplant. That’s right, it’s free, but registration is required in order to protect our members privacy.  You can click here to sign up


1. Eknoyan, Garabed, et al. “KDIGO 2012 clinical practice guideline for the evaluation and management of chronic kidney disease.” Kidney international supplements 3.1 (2013): 5-14.

2. Wilkinson, Thomas J., Natalie F. Shur, and Alice C. Smith. “‘Exercise as medicine’ in chronic kidney disease.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 26.8 (2016): 985-988.

3. Pei, Gaiqin, et al. “Aerobic exercise in adults with chronic kidney disease (CKD): a meta-analysis.” International urology and nephrology (2019): 1-9.

4. Howden, Erin J., Jeff S. Coombes, and Nicole M. Isbel. “The role of exercise training in the management of chronic kidney disease.” Current opinion in nephrology and hypertension 24.6 (2015): 480-487.


Meredith Marinaro, MS, RD, CSR is a Registered Dietitian and Medical Science Liaison with Akebia Therapeutics, Inc. She has worked with patients with chronic kidney disease for almost 15 years and is passionate about the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise. She is currently working on a Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance.

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