When we discuss health, we often think about what goes into our bodies, the foods we eat. A large part of maintaining a healthy body is exercise. Ever heard the saying, “Use it or lose it”? If we don’t use our bodies, we will eventually not be able to, even in basic tasks like cooking meals and getting out of a chair. As a former certified personal trainer, exercise is a hot button topic for me. I have seen both good and poor examples of aging well, and exercise plays a major role.
Dialysis patients may say, “I can’t exercise. I have a chronic disease.” Not true! Exercising can help your body function better and prevent your health problems from getting worse! Regular exercise can lower blood pressure, decrease heart disease risks, improve blood sugar control, and control weight. Those are all good things for your health, but you may not notice the effects on a day-to-day basis. I love the things exercise does for you that make you feel awesome right away. These include effects like improved energy and mood, lower stress, better sleep, strong muscles and bones (you can open that jar all by yourself or carry your groceries into the house in one trip), and help with digestion (more regularity, less bloating).
So, what should you do first? Tell your doctors (nephrologist, primary care doctor, endocrinologist, etc.) that you want to start exercising. Exercising may or may not affect medications you are taking, and sweat losses may affect your fluid status.
There are three components to a good exercise program. The first is cardiovascular exercise. This includes things like walking, biking, swimming, stair stepping, or jogging. This repetitive movement raises your heart rate and helps your muscles build endurance type of strength. This helps your heart, lungs, and circulation work more efficiently. Start out slowly at first to warm-up and end your session at a slower rate to cool down before you stop. When you start out, try going for 5-10 minutes per day and add a minute every week, building up to a goal of 20-40 minutes per day, 3-5 days per week. The second component to a well-rounded exercise program is strengthening exercises. This helps you become stronger or maintain your strength. You can use dumbbells, resistance bands, household items, or even just your body-weight for resistance. You can ask me for ideas about specific exercises you can do, and for Internet resources. The third component is a flexibility exercise. This will help prevent your joints from becoming stiff and painful. If you are hesitant to start any kind of physical activity, working on flexibility could be a good place to start. Do a few stretches to improve mobility and to help you become more aware of how your body moves. I can help you with ideas in this area as well.
Here is an example of what an exercise program could look like.
- Monday: Walk 20 minutes, Stretch for 5 minutes.
- Tuesday: Strengthening exercises for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Wednesday: Rest.
- Thursday: Ride a bike for 30 minutes, Stretch for 5 minutes.
- Friday: Strengthening exercises for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Saturday: Water aerobics or swim for 30 minutes.
- Sunday: Rest.
Monitor the intensity of your exercise. You should be able to talk to a friend in short sentences during your workout. Listen to your body and adjust your intensity accordingly. If you feel like you can’t do anything because you are in a wheelchair or have trouble walking, ask a physical therapist for assistance. You can get a referral from your doctor.
Keeping an exercise log is a good habit to have. Write down what exercise you did, what day you did it, the time of day, how long, and how you felt during your exercise. Your doctor will appreciate having that information as a tool to monitor your progress.
Remember, your health is important and the benefits of physical activity and exercise are more than you may think! Make it a priority in your life, a habit that can’t be skipped, like brushing your teeth.