Renewed Vitality: 10 Tips for Exercising with Kidney Disease to Boost Overall Well-Being

By Steve Weed

Every individual with chronic kidney disease (CKD) possesses unique physical capabilities. Additionally, kidney disease can affect individuals of all age groups and may present various medical challenges. As an example, I will share some aspects of my own story. While I experienced kidney damage at the age of 3, it didn’t significantly impact my life until I turned 30. At that point, my GFR was alarmingly low, and my blood pressure was unmanageable.

Both emotionally and physically, I found myself heading in the wrong direction. However, when my doctor prescribed medication to improve my renal function, I became determined. I took up running again with my doctor’s consent. I set a goal to complete a marathon, and I successfully ran the 26.2-mile race on two occasions. Exercise, including running, helps stimulate the body to produce endorphins, which contribute to my sense of well-being. Furthermore, aerobic exercise releases serotonin, a chemical known to that improves my mood. Therefore, besides the immense satisfaction of accomplishing something that leaves most people in awe, I also experienced physical improvement due to my exercise regimen.

Over the course of thirty-five years, I have undergone two transplants, but unfortunately, I have also developed several other medical conditions. I now suffer from drop-foot, a neurological condition that causes my right leg to occasionally drag. Additionally, I experience neuropathy, which on some days prevents me from walking long distances due to foot pain. Moreover, I have a stent in my left descending coronary artery, most likely due to years of poorly managed blood pressure. Although these conditions no longer affect me daily, they were disheartening for someone who used to run marathons. However, I understand the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle, even if it looks different now.

As mentioned earlier, every individual is different. Considering this, these are some tips that may help your get started.

    1. Start from where you are currently. If you are still capable of playing tennis or basketball, engage fully in those activities. If you have mobility limitations or require a catheter, be aware of your limitations. If walking is challenging, you can perform chair exercises.For instance, I played basketball with a PD catheter, but I took precautions to protect it. Another kidney advocate cycled 500 miles to raise awareness for kidney disease. Despite being on dialysis, he consumed double the amount of water typically allowed for an individual in his condition, knowing he would lose the excess fluids through perspiration.
    2. Engage in activities that you love. I reside in a rural area where trails are easily accessible, and I recently bought a camera as an excuse to spend time outdoors. This hobby doubles as exercise since it keeps my body moving. Staying active is not solely about willpower but also finding an activity that suits your limitations, lifestyle, and brings you joy. Once you find an enjoyable activity, exercise becomes a choice rather than an obligation imposed by others.
    3. Every individual has their preferred activity to stay active. However, it is crucial to incorporate activities that strengthen your major muscle groups, as it benefits cardiovascular health and triggers the release of endorphins. Personally, I find resistance bands to be highly effective. You can utilize them at home and adjust the intensity level according to your needs.There are weeks when I am disciplined in maintaining an exercise routine, while other weeks I may not be. However, after three months without exercise, I begin to miss it and feel compelled to resume for the purpose of feeling better.
    1. Some people prefer exercising in a social group, while others prefer solitude. Additionally, certain individuals find music to be energizing. If you enjoy exercising with others, find like-minded individuals to join you, as it will enhance your motivation. The same applies to listening to music or choosing between indoor and outdoor settings.
    2. Stretching becomes increasingly important with age, not only for individuals with kidney disease but for everyone. Personally, I have noticed that stretching not only improves my mobility but also boosts my energy levels. Stretching is comparable to activities like yoga or massage, as they stimulate blood flow passively. Therefore, incorporating stretching into your routine is a simple yet beneficial practice.
    3. Establish a routine that suits you best. During my dialysis days, I would skip aerobic exercises on those days. I identified a time that aligned with my schedule and energy levels. Discover what works for you and strive for consistency.
    4. Avoid comparing yourself to others or your previous capabilities. Each person has cherished memories of activities they used to enjoy, such as skiing, dancing, hiking, and walking. Although participating in those exact activities may no longer be feasible, there are countless other activities that can enhance your well-being, both physically and emotionally. When I visit my gym, I encounter so many of people who are older than me who maintain a consistent routine and appear well-toned. So, why not me?
    5. Acknowledge and credit yourself for any effort you put into staying active. There are days when I lack motivation, but if I make an effort, I applaud myself for my intention. Healthy individuals also have days when they have “average” workouts, so why should individuals with kidney disease expect themselves to exceed expectations every day?
    6. Always consult your doctor before embarking on any exercise program. RSN provides zoom exercise classes that are for all levels and provided at no charge.
    7. Stay resilient and avoid feeling discouraged. There are people in your life who are inclined to criticize others over anything. Therefore, be your own ally, do your best, and persevere.

Stephen Weed is a 68 year old two-time kidney transplant recipient.  His second transplant occurred in July 2018 at Swedish Hospital in Seattle.  He receives care currently through USC Keck’s post-transplant program. He lives in Ventura County, CA with his wife Bonnie, their sons Gabriel and Jeremy and three cats. He prides himself in laughing often and mentoring his sons. He also spends his time reading, people watching and advocating with RSN and One Legacy.

More by Steve Weed:

Human, Honorable Mention, 19th Annual Essay Contest

I’m transplanted – Now What? Hope Week Patient Panel Discussion Moderated by Transplant Recipient Steve Weed


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