7 Ways to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy
Your kidneys work to remove excess waste and liquid from your body — and damage to them can’t be reversed. That is why it's especially important to keep them healthy and prevent damage from ever forming. To help, here are seven things you can do to keep your kidneys in perfect shape.
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1. Drinking water helps prevent kidney damage
The best thing you can do to keep your kidneys healthy is also one of the simplest: drink water.
Water is one of the main things your kidneys use to filter wastes and toxins out of your body. It's commonly believed that everyone should drink eight glasses of water a day. While this is a good baseline, it isn't a universal rule. How much water your drink depends on a lot of factors like your age, weight, activity level, and any medical conditions you may have.
Drinking water is great for you in and of itself, but it's even better when it is replacing other less healthy options in your diet. Every time you drink a glass of water instead of a sugary drink or dark soda (which is especially bad for kidneys), you are giving yourself something beneficial instead of something harmful.
Drinking water has also been shown to prevent the development of kidney stones, which can be extremely painful to pass or require surgery to remove.
A good way to tell if you are drinking enough water is to monitor the color of your urine. Clear or light yellow urine is a good indicator that you're maintaining a good water intake. Dark yellow urine, however, means that you are dehydrated.
2. Aerobic exercise reduces the risk for chronic kidney disease
Your cardiovascular health is very closely tied to your kidney health. When your heart and blood vessels become damaged or work inefficiently, it has a direct impact on how your kidneys function. Conversely, anything you do to keep your heart healthy is going to benefit the rest of your body.
There is nothing wrong with lifting weights and building muscle, but the best way to improve your heart health is through aerobic exercise. These are exercises that you participate in over an extended period of time like running, swimming, biking, and rowing. Aerobic exercises strengthen your heart and lungs, leading to healthier kidneys.
You don't have to become a world-class athlete to get the benefits, either. The World Health Organization recently updated its guidelines and recommends getting 150-300 minutes of exercise per week. That may sound like a lot, but it averages out to 21–43 minutes per day.
3. Keep your blood sugar levels in check
Diabetes affects approximately 463 million people worldwide as of 2019, and is one of the leading causes of death in the world. Even more concerning is that many people have prediabetes and don't even realize it. If your blood sugar level is consistently elevated, prediabetes will ultimately progress to type 2 diabetes and a lifetime of complications.
So how does blood sugar and diabetes affect the kidneys? When there is more glucose (sugar) in your blood than your body can use, the excess stays in your bloodstream. It is your kidney's job to filter this excess sugar out to keep you balanced. Over time, the kidney can become damaged from the extra exertion, which reduces how well it can function. This can then cause a snowball effect because it leads to an even more significant glucose buildup.
4. Smoking causes kidney damage (in more ways than one)
Smoking has many harmful side effects, one of which is that the chemicals in cigarettes restrict and harden blood vessels. This makes it more difficult for blood to pass through, increasing blood pressure, risk of heart disease, and damage to your kidneys.
Smoking is most known for causing lung cancer in those who do it. However, there is also research that links it to kidney cancer. The harmful chemicals from cigarettes get into the bloodstream and can accumulate almost anywhere in the body.
If you are a smoker, the sooner you quit the better. Much of the damage smoking causes is reversible, but it takes many smoke-free years to get there.
5. Careful with over-the-counter pills
Over-the-counter pills are great for accessibility and convenience, but there are certain categories you should be aware of. Pain medications like ibuprofen are categorized as NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. There's nothing wrong with taking NSAIDs occasionally, especially if you have otherwise healthy kidneys. However, if you are taking these pills regularly, you are running the risk of causing kidney damage.
Even if you have perfectly healthy kidneys, you should always be cautious about mixing medications. When taken with other kinds of medicine, NSAIDs have a much higher likelihood of causing damage to the kidneys. If you're ever in doubt, never hesitate to talk to your doctor about the medications you're taking.
6. Certain foods can slow kidney failure
Since your kidneys filter waste in your body, what you eat has a big impact on them. There are certain foods that can help your kidneys perform better and others that can cause them damage, especially if your kidneys are already damaged.
Foods you should seek out include apples, blueberries, fatty fish, olive oil, radishes, macadamia nuts and skinless chicken.
On the other side of the coin, those with kidney disease need to avoid foods with high levels of phosphorus, sodium and potassium. This means staying away from any pre-packaged or canned foods that are loaded with salt, dark sodas, dairy, and whole wheat bread.
Healthy kidneys can handle almost anything in moderation, which makes it that much more important to keep them healthy in the first place.
7. Watch your blood pressure
This goes back to the heart-kidney connection. Like all parts of your body, your kidneys need blood to function properly. When they don't get enough, especially over long periods of time, they will eventually get damaged.
A consistently high blood pressure puts a lot of strain on your blood vessels and can harm them. Once they're damaged, they don't transport blood as well. While high blood pressure can be hereditary, the two most significant ways you can lower your blood pressure have already been listed above: A good diet and plenty of exercises. Those two things combined lead to a healthier heart, a healthy weight, and ultimately, healthy kidneys.