Home > NewsPatient Stories > Baby Steps to Big Gains – How an Exercise Class for People with Kidney Disease is Changing Lives

September 2017 | News, Patient Stories

For almost three years Gordon Thurston has been receiving dialysis three times a week. Before his kidneys failed, exercise was never a priority but when he heard about an exercise class for kidney disease patients, he decided to try it.

“This Lean Keen Kidney Machine program – it’s helped me a lot.” Thurston says he has seen significant benefits since starting to exercise about two years ago.

“I am almost at the point of getting rid of the walker. I used to able to walk maybe five to ten feet and now I can walk a block without the walker which is pretty good.”

Lean Keen Kidney Machines (LKKM) is a Winnipeg-based exercise program designed for people on dialysis or living with kidney disease. It is run by Manitoba Renal Program with both The Wellness Institute and Reh-Fit Centre.

“Lean Keen Kidney Machines was started in an effort to get more people with kidney disease exercising and have them feel confident in their ability to exercise so they could become life-long exercisers and increase their level of activity,” explains Dr. Clara Bohm, nephrologist with Manitoba Renal Program and medical lead for the program’s Exercise and Wellness Initiative.

“The goal is improving physical function and well-being.”

In a recent program evaluation people with low levels of physical function who attended LKKM were approximately two times more likely to have an improvement in their physical function after one year as compared to a control group of individuals with kidney disease and low physical function who did not attend LKKM classes. As well, a higher proportion of those who attended LKKM were exercising regularly at one year as compared to the control group.

Bohm is excited about the outcome and is continuing with additional research around the benefits of physical activity for people with kidney disease and people who receive dialysis.

She says while some smaller studies have shown exercise can help protect kidney function and prevent decline for those with earlier stages of kidney disease, more research is needed to know long-term impacts.

Current evidence shows benefits from exercise can include improved mobility and strength, reduced blood pressure and improved quality of life. For hemodialysis patients additional benefits can include better quality of dialysis treatment (improved clearance of certain wastes) as well as decreased need for blood pressure medications.

The LKKM program runs for ten weeks and is an introduction to physical activity with both education and exercise classes.

“What we were finding is that people were uncertain about how to exercise or even if they could exercise,” she explains. The program features everything from presenters on nutrition and medications to talking about precautions for patients with kidney disease. The program also walks participants through exercises in a gym setting.

Thurston says that as a beginner to exercise he liked the pace of the program and how an expert was available to teach and support them. He says starting slowly and increasing exercise over time helped ensure he didn’t become discouraged.

He says exercise has also made an impact on his mental health, particularly when he was newer to dialysis.

“It helps improve my outlook in my life too. Sometimes you get depressed at first and this really picks up your energy.”

He says more patients should try LKKM and involve more physical activity in their lives.

“Try it. Your life is going to be so much better.”

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