People who get plenty of physical activity may be less likely than their more sedentary counterparts to develop chronic kidney disease, a recent study suggests.
Researchers followed almost 200,000 Taiwanese adults without kidney disease for up to 18 years. Compared to people who were least active; those who got the most exercise were 9% less likely to develop kidney disease over the study period.
“Our results show that regular exercise may mitigate age-related deterioration in kidney function; and the risk of chronic kidney disease,” said study co-author Xiang Qian Lao of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Kidney disease is a leading cause of death as well as disability worldwide; in part because people with the condition tend to have poor circulation; and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes; researchers note in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
While prior studies have shown that exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease; it hasn’t been clear if regular workouts might also help prevent kidney damage.
During the study, about 11,000 people, or 5.6%, developed a chronic one. Researchers followed most participants for four years or more.
After adjusting for other kidney risk factors, the study team found that even people with low levels of physical activity were 7% less likely than those who were sedentary to develop kidney dysfunction. People with moderate physical activity levels had a 6% lower risk.
While the study wasn’t designed to prove whether or how exercise might reduce the risk of kidney disease; it’s possible that some of the same things that are good for heart health may also be good for kidney health, Lao said by email.
Many common risk factors with diabetes and cardiovascular disease, Lao said. “Exercise may reduce the risk of chronic kidney disease through decreasing the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
While kidney function can decrease gradually over time as people age; many people with healthy lifestyle habits maintain good kidney function throughout their lives. People who smoke; are obese; have a family history of kidney problems; or who have heart disease all are more likely to develop chronic kidney disease.
One limitation of the study is that researchers assessed exercise habits by surveying participants; not by using activity trackers to objectively measure how much or how intensely people exercised.
Also, researchers identified people with chronic kidney disease based on the results of a single lab test. Clinicians typically diagnose the condition based on two or more tests.
Still, the results build on earlier research suggesting that exercise might help avoid kidney disease, said Dr. Michal Melamed of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
“This is important for patients because physical activity is easily modifiable,” Melamed, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “So, if people are concerned about their kidney function, if they have a family or personal history of the disease, it is probably a good idea to not lead a very sedentary lifestyle.”
Doctors typically recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.
While these guidelines don’t directly address the risk, they are not a bad goal.
“It seems to be important to exercise regularly, every week and probably several times every week,” Melamed said. “The people in this study, in the highest group of physical activity, either walked a little more than an hour every day or ran at least 2 hours a week, while the people in the lowest group walked less than 15 minutes a day.”