Exercise for Dialysis Patients

By DaVita Social Workers Shelly Frasier and David Highfill

Most dialysis patients believe they cannot exercise. The truth is—most dialysis patients CAN exercise. Many renal patients describe regular exercise as the first activity that made them feel “normal” again after starting dialysis treatments.  Motion—even if it is only for a short time each day—helps the patient with chronic kidney disease feel better, stronger and more in control of their health.  Medical professionals working in renal rehabilitation have shown that a regular exercise program, however limited, not only enhances a person’s potential for physical activity, but also improves the overall quality of life for people on dialysis. 

Exercise can also help the kidney disease patient reclaim the ability to perform activities that were enjoyed prior to being diagnosed. This is not only beneficial physically, but also emotionally. Whether it is returning to work, conquering household chores, resuming a healthy sex life or managing their own health care, patients report feeling “more like myself,” when they can again accomplish even simple tasks. 

For people on dialysis or those at any stage of chronic kidney disease, exercise is highly recommended. Before you start any activity, however, be sure to do the following three things.

1. Talk with your doctor

The most important thing to do is talk to your doctor. He/she can tell what exercise is best for you because he/she will know what you can and can’t do depending on your current stage of kidney disease and treatment. Your doctor most likely will be very happy that you are asking about exercise. He/she can also help you to talk with a physical therapist. These are the experts who help people with all sorts of ailments begin to exercise. Together, your doctor and the physical therapist can watch your progress, help you monitor your activity level and make your exercise program fun.

2. Decide what kind of exercise you like

Most people enjoy walking. Walking is one of the least strenuous exercises we can do, but it’s also one of the healthiest. Walking helps with many bodily functions all at the same time.


  • helps with digestion
  • increases your energy level
  • reduces cholesterol levels
  • helps control your blood sugar and blood pressure
  • lowers the risk of heart disease
  • helps you to sleep better
  • helps to decrease stress

3. Get started

Many people on dialysis say they are too tired to exercise. They think that if they exercise they will be even more tired. The fact is, even a little bit of exercise, 15-20 minutes a day, will help you feel LESS tired. This means that by not exercising you will have lower energy and feel more tired. The longer you wait to exercise, the more tired and weak you will become.

A very common side effect of kidney failure is muscle wasting. This means that people with kidney disease are more prone to losing the muscle in their bodies.  If you exercise, however, you can help keep your muscles from shrinking. You can even get back the muscle that you lost if you exercise regularly.


Another reason why many dialysis patients feel they cannot exercise is because they feel they are simply too weak to do anything. It is easier to start exercising if you stretch first. Stretching is something almost all dialysis patients can do, and is a way to get the blood to the body parts that work when you are exercising. It is also helpful to stretch your legs, arms and back before walking or starting any other form of exercise. Proper stretching reduces the chance of cramping and helps you to exercise more comfortably. It also helps you to unwind when you are done exercising.

Start slowly

Don’t think that you will need to become a runner or an athlete to exercise effectively. Exercise at your own pace and you can build up over time. It is best if you can do at least 15-20 minutes a day, at least three to four days every week.  Remember to start slowly and ask your doctor before you do any type of exercise program. If you can start to exercise at least three times a week and keep it up for two weeks, you will be able to maintain a regular exercise program more easily.


  • Remember, nearly every dialysis patient can do some type of exercise. 
  • Always ask your doctor before you start any type of exercise program.  Your doctor can help you decide what is best for you and give you ideas on what kind of exercises you can enjoy.
  • Start slowly with stretching and always stretch before and after you exercise.
  • Exercise will help build energy and reduce risk for other illnesses. 
  • Exercise can help you to feel, eat, think and sleep better.

So, what are you waiting for? Talk to your doctor and start exercising now.