| Kidney disease

5 Tips for National Kidney Month

March 10, 2022, 3:01pm EST

Person outside smiling

It's March! That means it's time to celebrate National Kidney Month, raise awareness about kidney disease, and take control of your health. This might sound like a lot, but we're here to help with five ways you can improve your kidney health today.

Table of contents

  1. Know your risk factors
  2. Get moving
  3. Know the power of plant-based diets
  4. Drink the right amount of water
  5. Don’t forget about your mental health

1. Know your risk factors


Imagine flying from one end of the United States to the other, and the whole time you are in a window seat, watching cities full of people go by. As you look down, would you know that 33% of the people in all those places are at risk for kidney disease? It might be shocking, but 1 in 3 adults in America are at risk of developing kidney disease and don't know it. Learning about risk factors is key because early intervention may stop or slow kidney disease progression.

  • Diabetes: If left uncontrolled, type 2 diabetes can harm the small vessels of the kidney, affecting their ability to filter toxins.
  • High blood pressure: People with high blood pressure may not be aware of it because few noticeable symptoms occur. Get your blood pressure measured frequently and follow your doctor's recommendations if it is high.  
  • Family history of kidney disease: If you have a family history of kidney disease, you may want to monitor your kidney function. 
  • Older age: As we age, our bodies naturally lose kidney function. Yearly kidney function tests are a great way to keep track of it. 
  • Overweight: Being overweight puts people at risk of many conditions, including kidney disease. However, changing your diet and exercise habits while following healthcare recommendations may help you get back to a healthy weight. 

Take this one-minute quiz to determine if you are in the 33 percent.

2. Get moving

Exercise can help prevent disease, disability, injury, and premature death. However, 3 out of 4 American adults don't meet the physical activity guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities despite these benefits. It can be challenging to meet them if you are older or have a chronic illness or disability. The good news is you don't have to have a gym membership or expensive equipment to start exercising.

Here are a few ideas to get your heart pumping:

  • Take a walk outside. If weather conditions are less than ideal, look for a large, enclosed space like a mall, museum, or community center to walk around.
  • Join free, community-based activities like basketball, tennis, volleyball, or yoga.
  • Go for a nature hike or visit a park.
  • Start a garden or do some landscaping.
  • Dance it out in your living room.
  • Search for free workout or yoga routines and follow along.

Speak to a healthcare professional if you have any medical considerations before starting an activity.

3. Know the power of plant-based diets

Good nutrition is arguably one of the most important things you can do for your body. Some studies even suggest that people with kidney disease who follow a plant-based diet have lower mortality rates. If you're worried, you'll have to cut out meat entirely, don't be. You can still enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet without going vegan or vegetarian.

Here's how:

  1. Speak with your healthcare team: Without protein, our bodies wouldn't be able to build muscle, repair tissue, and fight infection. However, too much may lead to harm if your kidneys can't filter the excess out. Speak with your healthcare team to decide if a plant-based diet is appropriate for you and also learn about how much protein you should eat to live a healthier life.
  2. Know your serving sizes: One serving size of protein is 7 grams, but this can look different depending on what you're eating. For example, one serving size of tofu is ¼ to ½ cup while one serving size of nut butter is 2 tablespoons. Learn more.
  3. Stock your pantry with dried legumes and beans: They're low in fat and packed with plant protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. You can swap them out for animal protein in various dishes like tacos, stir-fries, and soup.
  4. Read nutrition labels: Some vegetarian-based frozen, canned, or premade foods contain high levels of sodium and phosphorus, which may be harmful to your kidneys. The daily percent values and ingredients listed will help you choose foods within your special diet needs. Learn how to read the new food label.
  5. Swap beef burgers with veggie burgers: Veggie burger options are endless, so let your inner chef run wild. You can make these delicious burgers from almost any plant-based product in any flavor you could imagine. Just watch any spice mixtures that include salt substitutes as they may contain potassium.

Always speak with your healthcare team before changing your diet, as you may have special considerations not listed here.

4. Drink the right amount of water

Did you know that your body is made up of 60-70% of water? Every part of the body requires water to function correctly, so any form of dehydration, even mild, can affect bodily functions. With that in mind, ask yourself right now: am I thirsty? If so, take a break, grab a glass of water, and sip on it while reading the following tips.

  • Your urine speaks volumes: One of the best indicators that you're drinking enough water is your urine. You're likely getting enough water if it is light or colorless, while dark yellow indicates dehydration.
  • Remember, you can drink too much water: People on dialysis or with later-stage kidney disease may need to limit their fluid intake because the kidneys are no longer able to properly balance fluid. Your healthcare team can provide guidelines for fluid intake if necessary.
  • Limit soda and processed drinks: Many of these drinks are packed with phosphorus, sugar, and other additives. Instead, choose water or healthier drinks like unsweetened juice.

5. Don't forget about your mental health

While it can be easy to forget about your mental health, it matters just as much as your physical health. According to the CDC, depression increases the risk of health problems including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. If you're having problems managing stress, anxiety, or depression, help is out there and available for you.

  • Know the symptoms: Some common symptoms of depression include difficulty doing things you usually enjoy, feelings of guilt, shame, worthlessness or hopelessness, mood shifts, and withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Speak with your healthcare provider: Your doctor, nurse or other healthcare providers can be an excellent resource for improving your mental health. They may recommend stress-coping techniques, talk therapy, medication, or a combination of all three.
  • NKF Peers: This program offers people with kidney disease a safe, anonymous space to connect with trained mentors via telephone or an in-app chat. Sometimes speaking with people in a similar situation helps give valuable insight and allows you to feel part of a community.

Share your story

Your story is as unique as you are, and it deserves to be heard and celebrated. It might also be the story that gives hope to another patient with kidney disease. Share your kidney story.

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