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Exercise when you’re on dialysis

​Having a problem with your kidneys can impact many parts of your life, including your mental and physical health. Exercise and being more active can help your feel better, even when you’re on dialysis.

Can I exercise if I’m on dialysis?

Yes, almost everyone who does dialysis can exercise. The type of exercise you choose depends on what type of dialysis you do, your medical conditions, how active you are now, and what you like to do.

Can I exercise during the dialysis treatment?

Yes, you can exercise during hemodialysis treatment (while you’re hooked up to the dialysis machine). Some dialysis units in Alberta even have exercise programs that you can take part in.

If you do peritoneal dialysis, you can be active while you have the dialysis fluid in your body.

Talk to your healthcare provider before you begin exercising while on dialysis and during your dialysis treatment. They may suggest you see an exercise specialist, like a physiotherapist or a kinesiologist, to get you started on an exercise program. They can also suggest the types of exercise that are best for you.

What are the benefits of exercising during your dialysis treatment?

The benefits of exercising during dialysis treatment include:

  • more energy
  • better mood and less stress
  • better removal of urea from the blood during dialysis (called dialysis adequacy)
  • less cramping and discomfort in the legs
  • helps to pass time
  • better level of fitness, including strength, stamina (able to exercise or do an activity longer), and being able to do your daily activities
  • better quality of life

Can I exercise at home or when I’m not on dialysis?

Yes, you can exercise at home or do a community exercise class. You can also exercise even if you have trouble walking or can’t walk. Any exercise is good for you, including activities you enjoy that get you moving.

Talk to an exercise specialist about what types of exercises are best for you. They can also give you an exercise program that is safe and based on your health and fitness goals.

If you have heart problems, talk to your healthcare provider about getting exercise through a cardiac rehabilitation program.

How do I get started with exercise?

To get started on your own:

  • Exercise (such as walking or biking) for 5 to 10 minutes. Do this once a day or a few times throughout the day.
  • Slowly add 3 to 5 minutes to your exercise session as you’re able. Keep adding time to your exercise sessions until you can exercise for 30 to 60 minutes in 1 session. This may take you days, weeks, or months. Go at your own pace.
  • Begin exercising 2 to 3 days a week on the days you don’t have a dialysis treatment. If you choose to exercise on a day you have dialysis, exercise before your appointment.
  • Work up to 4 to 7 days of exercise a week but take your time.
  • Start with a light effort and as you’re able to, work up to a moderate effort. This means it’s not easy but it’s not hard. You should be able to say 5 to 8 words without needing to take a breath (called the “talk test”).

What type of exercise should I do?

An exercise specialist can help you choose the best types of exercise. A complete exercise program is made up of 4 types of exercise – strengthening, cardiovascular, flexibility, and balance exercises.

Strengthening exercises use resistance through weights, elastic bands, or your own body weight to make your muscles work harder. These types of exercises make you stronger, have better balance, and can make your daily activities easier to do.

Cardiovascular exercises (also called aerobic or endurance exercises):

  • raise your heart rate
  • get more air into your lungs
  • get more oxygen into your blood
  • give you more stamina (be able to exercise longer)

Cardiovascular exercises use repeated movements of your arms, legs, or both. They include walking, riding a bike, and running.

Flexibility exercises target your joints to help you to bend, reach, and move more easily. These exercises use slow movements to gently stretch muscles. Flexibility exercises help you keep a healthy range of motion.

Balance exercises help with you keep your balance (stability) throughout the day. These exercises target small muscles to help your body find its position in space. Having good balance is very important to prevent falls.

Try these balance exercises.

What if I’m too tired to exercise?

You may be surprised to learn that exercise can make you feel less tired. On the days you don’t have dialysis, try to work out earlier when you’re likely to have the most energy. Remember that even 10 minutes of exercise is good for you.

Ask your healthcare team if they have exercise programs you can do while you’re getting dialysis treatment. This is a great way to pass the time while you're having treatment. There will also be a kinesiologist there to help guide you.


Talk to your doctor if you feel too tired to exercise or do other things you want to do. They can check your red blood cell count to make sure it isn’t too low. They can also suggest other things to help you feel less tired and be more active.

I find it hard to exercise. What can I do to make it more enjoyable and easier to do?

Make exercise fun by:

  • choosing activities you enjoy
  • listening to your favourite music
  • exercising with friends and family
  • finding an exercise group in your area – It’s also a great way to meet new people.
  • walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike while you watch TV

Keep a log and write down every time you exercise, what you did, and how long you exercised. This is great way to see your progress.

You can also talk to an exercise specialist about:

  • making a program based on your needs, interests, and fitness level
  • the Prescription to Get Active program (if they’re a member, you may be able to try out some fitness facilities for free)
  • if there is a leisure access program in your area, that allows you to go to fitness facilities if you have a low income

What else can I do to be more active?

There are other ways to be more active, such as:

  • parking farther away from where you’re going
  • taking the stairs instead of the elevator (even if it’s one flight of stairs and the elevator the rest of the way)
  • spending less time sitting and taking time to stand, walk, or stretch each hour
  • walking or riding your bike instead of driving
  • getting off the bus 1 or 2 stops early and walking the rest of the way
  • spending more time doing yard work, gardening, and other daily activities
  • carrying grocery bags one at a time instead of as many as you can carry

Learn more about fitness and exercise.

Current as of: October 7, 2020

Author: Medicine SCN (Kidney Health Section)