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Staying fit on dialysis

Many dialysis patients have questions about balancing physical exercise with dialysis. Our colleagues at NephroCare in Coimbra, Portugal, a beautiful city home to Portugal’s oldest university, were curious to find out how physical activity affects patients undergoing treatment in their centre. So they decided to conduct an internal project. The results were clear: patients who participated in the exercise programme gained energy and improved their personal well-being.

How it all began

In 2014, nurse Pedro Martins was writing his master's thesis on nursing rehabilitation when he realised patients undergoing haemodialysis spent long periods of their day inactive. This led him to the idea of combining exercise With haemodialysis, something he thought would benefit patients.

"Similar programmes exists in other countries as an add-on to dialysis outside of the clinics. However, we decided to integrate it into dialysis treatment to avoid overloading patients’ schedules," said Pedro Martins. "This way they avoid additional visits to the clinic and optimise the time they spend there." After a little refining, Pedro Martins's innovative exercise programme became available to 40 patients at NephroCare Coimbra.

The study measured the effects of exercise on haemodialysis patients. The results showed the exercise programme helped to increase dialysis patients 

  • mobility and walking.
  • body composition.
  • energy levels.
  • overall well being.

Participation requirements

Patient safety during the exercise programme is a top priority. All patients on haemodialysis who wish to participate must first undergo a medical evaluation according to their nephrologist`s indications: including an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram and a review of their medical history. In some cases, it may be advisable not to participate, but that’s something for the treating nephrologist to decide.

Why exercise during haemodialysis?

The nature of treatment requires haemodialysis patients spend a lot of time away from home. Typically, they go in to a clinic three days a week for a treatment session that lasts at least four hours. That’s not counting travel time to the clinic and waiting time in the dialysis unit. The time investment for treatment can affect patients’ personal lives, careers, self-esteem and sense of autonomy.

Altogether these factors can make people less active, which often leads to a downward spiral. Being inactive makes people more fatigued and that in turn decreases their activity level even further. This explains why staying physically active while on haemodialysis is so important. And since dialysis patients are already spending large parts of their week at the centre, the combination of treatment and exercise are a perfect match.

Looking into the future

Ultimately Pedro Martins’s hunch about exercise during haemodialysis was right. Thanks to his initiative and the openness of the NephroCare Coimbra centre to participate in the study, we know for a fact that being physically active benefits people on haemodialysis in a variety of ways. Proven to be successful, the exercise programme will now be offered to other NephroCare centres in Portugal.

Even if your centre doesn’t offer the programme yet, enquire with your physician or NephroCare team about how you can best incorporate physical activity in your daily life.

Here’s to staying active – for your health!

"Since starting this programme, my daily routine has improved."

Maria do Céu Sacadura, haemodialysis patient at NephroCare Coimbra.

"I was always in favour of new experiences. As soon as I was presented with the opportunity to join this training programme, I wanted to participate. I thought it could be good for me. So I began cycling and lifting weights, and I’ve enjoyed it so much that I have even thought about buying some weights to use at home.

I feel much better. Before I lacked energy and felt very tired, especially after treatment. Now, sometimes, I even walk home. I am capable of walking for half an hour and I don’t find it difficult. Besides, the time in the clinic goes by faster while I exercise since I am distracted." said Maria do Céu Sacadura.