Exercising on dialysis: an important tool in the quest for a normal life

Everyone on dialysis would like to lead a normal life if given a choice. However, people on dialysis  often have constraints that prevent them from doing things that people with healthy kidneys do. Exercise is one such example.

Exercise is beneficial for everyone irrespective of whether their kidneys are functioning or not. It keeps the body fit and an often ignored benefit is its positive impact on the mind. It is not different for those on dialysis.

The important thing is to talk to your treating nephrologist about what exercise you can safely do. Start small and then slowly increase the duration and intensity. Listen to your body. Don't overdo it. Stop immediately if you feel any signs of discomfort, excessive tiredness, panting, breathlessness and so on. Talk to your doctor and then adjust the duration or intensity.

Here are some ways you can incorporate some physical activity into your life without much ado:

1. Walking

Walking is a very safe form of exercise and suitable for almost everyone. It requires no special equipment or clothes. It can be done anywhere and at any time. Try to walk when the pollution levels are low (early morning, late night). Try to walk in an area which is green and peaceful if possible. If you are not exercising at all, then start with a short, easy, five-minute walk - very slow, very calm. If you feel good about it, continue for a week or so. Then increase it to ten minutes. Watch your body and look for any signs of stress or discomfort. If everything is all right, gradually increase this duration of the walk. You can slowly increase the speed of walking if you wish.

2. Swimming

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise for everyone. It is all the more beneficial for those with any joint pain / weakness and so on. Since the joints feel less pressure while in the water, this is a great way to exercise the body without subjecting the joints to additional stress that is possible while walking. Like with any other form of exercise, make sure you start slow and small and gradually increase the duration and intensity.

3. Yoga

There are several poses in Yoga that help in making the body supple and less stiff. Most dialysis patients are not used to moving their limbs much at all and as a result the joints become stiff and inflexible. This can also result in several pains in the body. The stretching that Yoga poses encourage allows the body to become less rigid and able to withstand any sudden jerks and movements that might result in a sprain or pain. Pranayam in Yoga is very safe for almost everyone and can be done with almost no physical stress and exhaustion. The poses should be done slowly and under the guidance of an expert who knows about your condition and can ensure that you don't hurt yourself. There are various derivatives of Yoga such as Iyengar Yoga that make some poses easier snd less taxing on the body by using props.

4. Sports

The advantage of playing a sport compared to things like walking and swimming is that there is an additional incentive in terms of winning a game and also having company. If your bones and muscles are in good health, you can take up any sport such as cricket, Table Tennis, Badminton etc. This can not only keep your body in good health but also keep your mind competitive and energetic. One thing to be careful about in cricket is your dialysis access. Make sure you take adequate protection and don't let it get injured. Make sure to consult your doctor before starting any sport.

5. Strength Training

After a few years on dialysis, many people find that they begin to lose strength in their legs and hands. Simple tasks like getting up from a chair or climbing a flight of steps becomes a major challenge. This is because the muscles and bones start becoming weak. They start to lose their ability to do some of the most basic tasks we usually take for granted. Strength training for this helps a lot. Several patients have reported a dramatic improvement in these abilities even after a couple of months of strength training. You can either engage with a Physiotherapist or look up exercises on YouTube or the internet for simple exercises that will help you to keep the muscles and bones in your arms and legs healthy and strong. You can read up a little more about this topic here.


Many people believe that once they get onto dialysis, life is going to be compromised. They can no longer do things that healthy people do. Nothing can be farther from the truth. It is all in the mind. If you believe you can do it and genuinely desire to do it, nothing is impossible. Exercise is one such thing.

The physical benefits of exercise are well-known. The benefits on your mind however will amaze you once you begin.

However, like everything else in kidney disease, talk to your doctor before starting anything new. Start small and mild. Make sure you listen to your body closely. Gradually increase the duration and intensity. In case of any discomfort, stop immediately and speak to your doctor.

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