Lifestyle Changes to Manage Chronic Kidney Disease

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2024 | Last updated: February 2024

If you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), there are many lifestyle changes you can make to help preserve the kidney function you currently have. Adopting these healthy habits may prevent future kidney damage.1

These lifestyle changes can not only help protect your kidneys from further damage but also help improve your overall health. Keep reading to learn the day-to-day behaviors that can make a difference to the health of your kidneys and general well-being.1

Control your blood sugar

If you have diabetes, take steps to control your blood sugar. Check your blood sugar levels regularly so that they stay within a safe range. Get your A1C checked regularly as well. A1C is a test that looks at your blood sugar over the span of several months.1

Control your blood pressure

High blood pressure can damage your kidneys. Controlling your blood pressure is one of the most important things you can do to keep your kidneys healthy.1

A normal blood pressure range is typically around 120/80 mm Hg. Your doctor would call this "120 over 80." High blood pressure is when the numbers are higher than 130/80 mm Hg.2

You can help control your blood pressure by:1

  • Eating a low-salt diet
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Not smoking
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Taking your medicines as directed by your doctor
  • Avoiding alcohol

If you have kidney disease or have a history of high blood pressure, have your doctor check your blood pressure regularly.

Control your cholesterol

You have both "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) and "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) in your body. LDL cholesterol is considered bad because it clogs your arteries and blood vessels. It can lead to chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. High cholesterol can also affect your kidneys.3

Take steps to control your cholesterol by getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. Avoid foods high in saturated fats. Avoid fried foods and fast food or takeout. Try to eat foods that are rich in:3

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Lean proteins
  • Healthy fats from olive oil and fish

If you struggle with high cholesterol or are overweight, meet with a dietitian. They can help you make healthy changes to your diet.3

Stay hydrated

Humans are made up of about 60 to 70 percent water! Your body needs water in order to function. Water is especially crucial for the kidneys. It helps them remove waste from the blood, which leaves the body when you pee.4

If you are dehydrated, your kidneys have to work extra hard. Dehydration can also lead to kidney stones and urinary tract infections (UTIs). If left untreated, these problems can lead to kidney damage.4

It is usually simple to tell if you are dehydrated – just look at your pee. If your pee is dark yellow, you are likely dehydrated and may need to drink more water. If your pee is light yellow or almost clear, you are well hydrated. If your pee is always dark yellow no matter how much water you drink, see your doctor.4

But if you have very low kidney function or kidney failure, you may need to restrict the amount of fluids you take in. Always talk with your doctor about how much water is right for you.4

Stay up to date on your vaccines

Vaccines help keep you safe from preventable illnesses. If you have a chronic health condition like kidney disease, make sure you are current on all your vaccinations and booster shots. This includes the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine.5

People with CKD may be at a higher risk of getting certain infections. Some vaccines should not be given to you if you have had a kidney transplant. Always check with your doctor about which vaccines you may need.5

Do not smoke

Smoking puts extra strain on your kidneys and increases your risk of CKD. Smoking also increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as many other health conditions. Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, take the steps to quit.1

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to maintain and increase overall health. Staying active helps you maintain a healthy weight. This is important for people with kidney disease because carrying excess weight puts extra strain on your kidneys.1

Any physical activity is good activity. If you are consistent, you will get the health benefits. Talk to your doctor about how much exercise you need to stay healthy.1

Avoid medicines and other substances that can damage kidneys

Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are common over-the-counter (OTC) medicines used for pain relief, headaches, fever, or colds. But they should be avoided if you have kidney disease.1,6

These drugs are called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. NSAIDs can damage your kidneys, especially if they are used over a long time.1,6

Many brand names fall into the NSAID category of medicine. Make sure to look at the "Drug Facts" label on the pill bottle before taking an OTC medicine. Talk with your doctor about which medicines, vitamins, and supplements are safe for you to take.1,6

Other drugs and substances to avoid if you have kidney problems include:6

  • Prescription laxatives
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Alcohol
  • Illegal drugs

Take the first step

It might feel overwhelming to tackle all of these lifestyle habits all at once. Start small. Add 1 or 2 of these habits into your daily routine, and slowly build from there. Remember, any progress is better than no progress.

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Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.