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Exercise improves symptoms in chronic kidney disease patients

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Just 12 weeks of aerobic and strength-based exercise reduces symptoms and levels of fatigue in patients with chronic kidney disease, according to findings from a UK study.

Researchers – from the University of Leicester and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust – randomly divided 36 non-dialysis patients with chronic kidney disease into two groups.

“We have now shown that exercise has positive benefits on patients’ reported symptoms”

Tom Wilkinson

The first group completed aerobic exercises, such as walking and cycling, while the second group was given strength training exercises, such as leg presses, in addition to the aerobic activities.

Exercises were completed three times per week for the duration of the study. Patients on the study were supervised in the gym at Leicester Diabetes Centre.

The difficulty of the exercises was increased as the patients got fitter and stronger, noted the researchers in the Clinical Kidney Journal.

Symptoms were measured using a kidney-specific questionnaire, which asked patients to rate on a scale of 0 to 5 how frequent and how much impact 11 different symptoms had on their lives.

Across both groups, the total number of symptoms was reduced by 17%, with large improvements seen in fatigue where reductions were between 10% and 16%.

In addition, performing aerobic exercise reduced the symptom of “shortness of breath” by 40% and “itching” by 35%.

By adding strength training exercises, participants reported a 41% increase in “muscle strength and power”, as well as feeling less weak and having fewer muscle spasms and episodes of stiffness.

“Supervised exercise had favourable effects on symptom frequency and intrusiveness, including substantial improvements in fatigue,” stated the study authors.

“Supervised exercise had favourable effects on symptom frequency and intrusiveness”

Study author

Lead author Dr Tom Wilkinson, from the university’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, said: “Patients with chronic kidney disease experience many unpleasant symptoms.

“We know that – in general – exercise improves physical fitness levels and strength. But until now we had little evidence that exercise also has a significant positive effect on symptoms in this patient group, as well as on their self-reported quality of life,” he said.

“We have now shown that exercise has positive benefits on patients’ reported symptoms,” said Dr Wilkinson.

He added: “These include sleep problems, weakness, muscle spasms and restless legs. To maximise the health benefits, patients should undertake both aerobic and strength training exercises.”

Along with physical fitness and reductions in symptoms, the study authors noted that exercise also had other benefits such as improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetic control.

The research was partly funded by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, a partnership between Leicester’s Hospitals, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University.

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