Jul 24, 2020
Healthy Habits: Dialysis Patients and Exercise

The two leading causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure1. Both conditions are also associated with increased weight gain, and inactivity exacerbates weight gain.


A common myth among end stage kidney disease (ESKD) patients is that they cannot exercise due to their dialysis treatment. The reality is that most dialysis patients can enjoy some level of exercise with guidance from their physician. Emerging research has shown that regular exercise among ESKD patients promotes a healthier lifestyle and can improve quality of life.  


Exercise helps2:

  • Improve digestion
  • Increase energy
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Reduce heart disease risk
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Reduce stress

If you’re an ESKD patient interested in increasing your activity, review these recommendations to help you maintain a successful exercise regimen while receiving dialysis therapy.


Talk with Your Doctor


Your doctor can advise you on the best types of exercise based on your stage of kidney disease and current treatment. As the conversation unfolds, you may be referred to a physical therapist for a more tailored exercise program. Together, the two will watch your progress, monitor your activity level and find ways to make your exercise program fun.


Decide What Kind of Exercise You Like


Walking is one of the healthiest, least strenuous exercises you can do. It helps with many bodily functions all at the same time.


Lifting light weights can also help increase blood flow, build muscle and help you become stronger. If you have an arteriovenous fistula in your arm for hemodialysis or an abdominal catheter for peritoneal dialysis, talk with your doctor before you begin lifting weights of any size.


Calisthenics – sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, squats, calf raises, etc. – are exercises designed to help strengthen and improve the body’s flexibility by using your own weight for resistance.


Get Started


Fatigue is normal for dialysis patients. Exercising on a regular basis can help you feel more refreshed, energized and better equipped to handle treatment.


A common side effect of ESKD is muscle wasting. Exercising is a great way to help you combat this and build strength.


It is best not to exercise on a full stomach. If you’re receiving peritoneal dialysis, you may find it easier to exercise with an empty abdomen rather than one filled with peritoneal dialysis fluid.


Build Up Endurance


Work out at your own pace and build up over time. A realistic exercise goal might be at least 15-20 minutes a day, three to four days every week. If you can maintain this rhythm for two weeks, it will help you continue an ongoing exercise program.


Stay Hydrated


Depending on your dialysis treatment, you may have specific fluid restrictions. As you start exercising, talk with your care team about how to remain hydrated while also controlling your fluid intake. Check the labels on water bottles and sports drinks to see if potassium or phosphorus have been added. Kidney disease patients need to limit or avoid these minerals when possible.




  1. Source: Chronic Kidney Disease Basics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/kidneydisease/basics.html.
  2. Source: Physical activity, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity.