Dialysis and Exercise and New Year's Resolutions. Girl jumping rope looking at mountains.

Dialysis and Exercise and New Year’s Resolutions

Kicking Off The New Year With Fresh Goals

The start of a new year inspires motivation to make healthier choices, break bad habits, or accomplish a new personal goal. It’s an opportunity to stop and reflect over the past year, evaluate what is working for you and what you would like to change. New Year’s resolutions often stem from a desire to improve the quality of our lives, relationships, and overall health.

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is the goal to exercise more. And for good reason! There are so many proven benefits of exercise. Exercise is especially important in the management of chronic kidney disease (CKD), including those on dialysis.

The Barriers And Benefits Of Exercise For Dialysis Patients

If you have CKD and are on dialysis you are more likely to have a sedentary lifestyle. Often, this can be due to symptoms related to kidney failure, such as low energy levels, fatigue, and muscle weakness. Recovery time after dialysis and the length of time actually spent on dialysis treatment are also factors (1) . There are concerns over the safety and type of exercise, and not having enough support or motivation. Additionally, there is a lack of counseling by nephrologists and healthcare providers to recommend routine exercise for CKD patients (2, 3).

As a dialysis patient, increasing your physical activity level will provide a wealth of benefits.  If you need some inspiration here are a few researched benefits of exercise:

Get Moving! Exercise Options for Dialysis Patients

If you haven’t been exercising it is best to start off slow and increase physical activity gradually. For cardiovascular exercise and for strength exercises using weights, it is important to discuss with your doctor what is safe for you to do. Depending on what type of dialysis access you have (arm fistula for hemodialysis or an abdominal catheter for peritoneal dialysis), you may have certain restrictions. Overall, for most people on dialysis it is safe to incorporate exercise into your weekly or daily routine.

Strengthening and Flexibility exercises

Strengthening and flexibility exercises will help lengthen and stretch your muscles, not only building strength, but improving balance, and preventing injuries. The Life Options Rehabilitation Advisory Council offers some great stretching exercises to get you started (click this link). Using a resistance band can help you increase strength and build muscle. You can buy a resistance band online or at any local pharmacy. There are many resistance band exercises available online for beginners.

Even fun activities such as gardening or playing golf can help improve your flexibility. One of my favorite options is incorporating yoga or Tai Chi into your exercise routine (more here). Both yoga and Tai Chi have been shown to build strength, muscle tone, balance, relieve stress and pain, and improve mood and sleep.

Cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular exercises can help you use oxygen more efficiently and lower your risk of heart disease. It can also help boost your mood with the release of endorphins and dopamine in your body which are basically “feel good” chemicals released by your brain. We could all use a boost of feel good! Examples of cardiovascular exercise include walking, bicycling (outside or on a stationary bike at home), swimming, dancing, martial arts, stair stepping, jogging, etc. Whatever you choose, make it an activity that you enjoy to help you stay consistent.

Doing a combination of both strengthening and flexibility exercises along with cardiovascular exercise will give you the most results.

Making Your Exercise Goals A Habit

So, this year you’ve decided your New Year’s resolution is to exercise more. Good for you! This is an awesome goal. Learning to be consistent and not losing motivation along the way will help you turn your goal into a healthy habit. So, how do you make exercise stick?

Start With Open Goals

We are usually told to make SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time based) in order to be successful. An example of a SMART goal would be: I will start walking for 15 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a month. However, new research indicates that these specific goals can sometimes be more discouraging if you’re not able to achieve your specific target (6).

Setting a more open goal can often be more rewarding and take away the fear of failing. Open goals are non-specific and explore the possibilities. An example of an open goal would be, “let’s see how many steps I can take today”. Instead of comparing where you think you should be, you keep building from your starting point. This can be a good place to start until you are ready to set more specific goals.

Find Your Support System

Another important motivator is to seek support from others. Tell your friends and family about your goals and have them check in with you and cheer you on. Even better, have them participate with you! Having someone else to exercise with makes it more enjoyable and can help hold you more accountable.

Reward Yourself!

Also, when you have achieved a certain result that you are proud of, it is important to reward yourself along the way. A reward can be a treating yourself to a pedicure, a new book, or item of clothing. Whatever it is, giving yourself something to look forward to (release of more “feel good” chemicals in your body!) and rewarding your progress will help keep you motivated.

Be Kind

Lastly, be kind to yourself and listen to your body. If you feel short of breath or light headed, those are signals that you need to slow down and rest. Don’t get discouraged about where your physical ability is right now. With practice and a little compassion you will see progress and just might be surprised to find out what you are capable of.

Here’s to making that New Year’s resolution to exercise more a new healthy habit!

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