Exercise and Dialysis

By Karen Liddle

If you’re like me, food isn’t just fuel, it’s comfort. It’s home-cooked dinners, holiday gatherings with family, that first dinner date, and a chocolate bar in hand. It’s what makes us remember happiness. And when you’re a dialysis patient, the rough days that often stretch into weeks and months require that little “hit of happy.” Eating healthy and exercising can seem like some far-off dream to be saved for a future day when you have more energy, but I guarantee that if you motivate yourself to do those things today they will GIVE you that additional energy. It may seem strange to say that exercising gives you more vigor. That’s what I thought too, but it turns out I was wrong.

In 2019, I weighed 195 pounds and felt miserable. I was tired. Walking up a flight of stairs took all the energy out of me. Even simply standing from a sitting position was difficult, never mind if I stood from a position on the floor. My husband suggested a personal trainer at a local gym. I told him he was confused. Exercise was hard! How will hard work be possible when I can’t even get up easily?

I do peritoneal dialysis every night at home, just as I have done for 12 years. I was resolved that this was my life now—to drag myself to work each day, come home and make a meal for my kids, and then attach myself to my lifesaving (more like life-sucking) machine and fall into bed exhausted each night, only to repeat the whole process over again the next day. Where would I find the energy to do even more?

I agreed to get a personal trainer, but don’t know why. I bought gym memberships many times in the past and never showed up. I purchased a bike and never used it. I tried exercises and then remembered I don’t like doing them. They are hard, and they leave me exhausted! I’m lazy. I need someone to motivate me. And now I’m here today to tell you it works!

I shelled out the cash for my trainer and started by going to the gym once a week. The trainer was well worth every cent. You get someone who expects you to show up for every session; someone who makes you feel guilty if you don’t go; someone who tells you exactly what to do, how to do it, and how many times to do it. It’s fantastic! During my first session I lifted two-pound weights. I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. The hour-long session felt more like 100 years and I thought to myself, I can’t do this. But I also thought, If I did it this time, and survived, I can do it again next time. I repeated that mantra over and over in my head.

It was hard, I’m not going to lie. But I was doing this for my life. I envisioned my motivation, which was to get healthy and lose weight to prepare for transplant surgery. The healthier you are going in, the better you will do coming out. Find a reason to keep going, be it your children, or for surgery. Yes, I dreaded going to the gym, but each time I went I still managed to make it through. It was like how the character Harry Potter had seen himself do something in the past—he knew he could do it again in the present and in the future.

Bit by bit, I got stronger and didn’t dread working out quite as much. At some point I realized I could walk up the stairs without getting winded. Getting up and down off the floor became easier. I had more energy and felt like my old self. It’s so easy to imagine we are the same person we were 10 years ago, but the truth is if we don’t use our muscles they get weaker and weaker, and we don’t just revert back to the regular us, we go backwards into less than who we were. I hadn’t realized just how much strength I had lost over the years by doing nothing. I’d started to accept weakness and being tired all the time as a part of dialysis and kidney failure. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Knowing this helped me get back to my normal level, one that I didn’t realize I had moved away from.

Now I have so much more energy! And with that energy comes happiness and less emotional eating. I plan out easy, repeatable breakfasts and lunches. Cereal with almond milk and fruit, or oats soaked overnight. Mixed salad with rotisserie chicken, or wraps with roasted veggies and feta. I prepare easy, no-fuss meals in batches that I don’t have to think about. I saved that energy for planning a healthy, fun meal for dinner. It’s amazing how easy it all becomes once you do it consistently. It’s the starting that’s hard.

After two years, I got down to 155 pounds. I have not felt this good in years. I walk every other night with my husband, go to the gym twice a week, and eat as healthy as I can. And I know to you it may seem impossible, but all you need to do is start. It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, every little movement and every little change makes a difference. It really is hard to believe that expending energy will give you more energy, but it’s absolutely true. Yes, it’s hard, and it takes time. You may think you can’t do it, but you absolutely can, and you will be happy that you did!




Get your own much needed exercise at no charge and online in RSN’s Kidney Kin Fitness with personal trainer, Edina Tanacs and RSN’s Be Fit While You Sit with personal trainers, Nicole Simpson and Karen Langeven. Click here to learn more.



Karen Liddle is 50 something year old mother of two, and has been on peritoneal dialysis for 12 years.  She’s the Navigator for High Risk Breast Screening in Kingston Ontario. Karen keeps busy cooking, writing and gleefully irritating her husband Sean. This fall she is getting ready for a dual liver-kidney transplant. Her motto is “there’s ALWAYS a way to do something” and she should never be underestimated when challenged.


Web ID 8041