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Simple steps to better health

09 March 2020

Diet and exercise don’t have to be scary. Here’s your quick start guide to getting fit and staying healthy.  

“Get fit – get healthy!” is a phrase that can make a lot of us panic, and probably let out a little groan because we’ve all heard it so many times. We know we’re supposed to be healthy, and we know we’re supposed to exercise, but there’s so much information out there it can be difficult to decide where to start. And if you're living with a chronic condition like kidney disease, finding an approach to diet and exercise that you can manage is essential. 

It's okay to be hesitant: there is a lot to think about. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, once you get into it, you might find you enjoy it.  

1. Why should I even start?

Fair question. Why even bother getting fit and healthy? To put it bluntly: you’re more likely to live longer and it lowers your chances of getting a host of diseases. It can also help you cope as well as possible with any existing health issues. You’ll also probably be happier! Whether it’s ditching smoking or the regular fast food, walking to the shop rather than driving or taking a stroll at lunch, there are many changes you can make.  

2. Diet – you don’t have to eat like a rabbit

Fixing your diet doesn’t mean living solely on lettuce leaves. That’s not going to make anyone happy – and if you don’t enjoy your food you won’t eat it regularly. Instead of massive restrictions, keep it simple and keep it colourful. For ease, to stick to foods that looks like they did in the wild – so not overly processed where possible. If you have any concerns about what you can and can’t be eating, in terms of your blood and mineral levels, speak to your kidney team. 

  • Plenty of sprouting veggies, some fruit, beans, nuts and seeds. 
  • Choose protein carefully: plant sources of protein (like pulses, beans and nuts) can avoid some of the unhealthy fats found in some cuts of meat. 
  • Stick to lean cuts of meat and fish if you’re not vegetarian or vegan. 
  • Eat good unsaturated fats (veggies, seeds and oily fish), and steer clear of trans fats (this comes from processed cooking oil) entirely as these raise cholesterol. 
  • Limit your intake of processed food altogether – that’s anything that’s been made, like cake, sweets and processed sliced meat at the deli counter! 
  • Limit salt to about a teaspoon (six grams) as this can lower blood pressure and help your kidneys out. 

Moderation is key. Most people don’t have to be super strict – you should always enjoy your food. Just don’t indulge too often. But every now and then, have the pizza, the slice of cake, the juicy burger – just don’t have them all the time.    

Once you start with a few simple dietary swaps, you change the way you see your meals and it just becomes a habit. You can try an app like MyFitnessPal if you want some insight into the calories and nutritional aspects of your food (it’s also great for holding you accountable for those snacks). Eventually, you can form a much better relationship with food and everything’s better because of it.  

3. Move – you don’t have to join the gym

Many people confuse exercise and physical activity. Physical activity is any movement of your body and its muscles, where is exercise is more structured. It’s okay to not go to the gym if that’s is not for you. The key is to pick an activity you enjoy. 

The recommended amount of physical activity is 150 minutes a week. Don’t worry if you’re not there yet, start slow and start low and gradually build it up. It may be as simple as starting with a five- or ten-minute walk to your local shop. Every bit of activity adds up. Chair exercises, for example, can be ideal if being on your feet is a problem. If your exercise level is a zero right now, commit to just one day per week, and slowly build it up. Don’t go all-in with a five-day per week gym schedule. Ease your body into it.  

For those with kidney problems, we already know that muscles can start to waste away on their own. We want to help tackle this. Our researchers are working on the Iron and Muscle study, that’s giving chronic kidney disease patients a regular dose of exercise plus an iron supplement. We’re finding out whether people on the study have improved strength and whether the programme impacts their blood pressure and cholesterol.  

4. Set yourself some goals!

Setting goals can be a great motivator. Having something to work towards gives a lot of people the incentive to make the lifestyle changes we’ve talked about. This could be a target number of steps, calories or even attending a specific event. Pick a goal that is just a little bit harder than what you are currently doing – this will help you to achieve it and work towards your second goal. 

Perhaps one – or all three – of our Bridges Walks could be your goal. Not only are these events great for your health, but they also help raise money to fund more of the wonderful kidney research that will eventually improve lives.  

5. Do what you can, now

It’s easy to say, “I can’t run a marathon”, “I can’t lift those weights”, “I can’t cook that meal”. And that might very well be the case for you. But instead of focussing on what you can’t do, instead think about what you can do, now. Can’t run a marathon? But can you walk around the house, to the shops, to the park, or further? Can’t lift those weight? How about an empty barbell? A broom handle? Or just a bodyweight movement. Can’t cook that fancy meal? How about something simple – with three ingredients that takes ten minutes? A little now, is better than nothing ever. You can do it.  

6. Want to find out more?

Check out our healthy eating for people living with kidney disease page.

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