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    Tips on Exercising After Transplant

    Keeping Fit Improves Your Post-Transplant Health

    Patients with chronic kidney disease who undergo transplantation usually experience vast improvements in their quality of life. Transplant recipients typically feel stronger and more energetic than when on dialysis. Many patients return to work, start traveling and/or begin having children after transplant recovery. Additionally, many patients whose activity had been limited before begin to exercise. Often, transplant recipients are squeamish to start “working out” for concerns that they may harm their kidneys. This article serves as a guide to getting back in shape after transplant.

    Walking is Critical After Transplant

    While in the hospital, our Kidney Team encourages transplant patients to get out of bed and walk as soon as their anesthesia wears off. “Walking is the best form of exercise after transplantation, as it helps reduce swelling and expedite the recovery process,” says Steven Katznelson, M.D., medical director of California Pacific’s Kidney Transplant Program. Around four to six weeks after surgery, other types of exercise can be added. It is best to start with low-impact exercises such as:

    • riding an indoor exercise bicycle;

    • taking a fast walk or slow jog on a treadmill.

    Most Sports Okay for Transplant Recipients

    After about six to eight weeks, assuming that the surgical wound has healed well, you can begin nearly any form of exercise. The general principle is to start slowly. If you used to jog five miles, start by jogging 1/2 mile first, then work your way up to your goal. If you used to lift 100 pounds at the gym, start with 20 pounds. Multiple repetitions of any exercise at a lower weight are better than trying to lift too much too soon.

    Transplant recipients can engage in virtually any type of exercise or sport. Only those sports that regularly involve direct blows to the kidney are discouraged (for those of you interested in kick-boxing or rugby, we recommend you try biking or tennis!) Otherwise, almost anything goes. As you may know, Alonzo Mourning, a recently retired professional basketball star, received a kidney transplant and then went back to playing ball.

    Getting Motivated

    The most difficult part of exercising after transplant is getting started. Many patients are out of shape prior to transplant because of a number of factors:

    1. Dialysis leaves you feeling weak;

    2. Lack of muscle strength due to end-stage kidney disease;

    3. Anemia;

    4. Other concurrent health problems;

    5. Difficulty in finding time to exercise because of time commitments at home, work and at dialysis.
    California Pacific’s Kidney Team strongly encourages patients to exercise after transplant. Those who exercise tend to have a faster recovery and experience better weight control, sugar control (for diabetics), blood pressure and cholesterol control. All of these issues lead to better overall heart health and long-term transplant success. Again, all types of exercise should be started slowly both with respect to time and level of exertion. Patients should push themselves to increase the amount of exercise they are getting. In the end, all patients should try to exercise at least 30 minutes per day, four days a week.

    If you are trying to exercise and find that you lack energy, have shortness of breath or chest or muscular pain, consult your health care team. There may be an underlying medical problem that is preventing you from reaching your exercise goals. Also, remember that exercising causes water loss through sweating and increased respirations. Therefore, drinking extra fluids is essential. As a rule of thumb, try to drink an extra half liter of fluid (500cc) for every 20-30 minutes of exercise you do.

    If you are having difficulty getting motivated to exercise, talk to your transplant team or local health care providers for recommendations. Find an exercise partner. Join a gym or exercise class. Go for a walk. Ride a bike. You and your new kidney will enjoy the benefits!