Managing kidney disease through lifestyle behaviors

Following healthy lifestyle habits can help you prevent kidney disease. And, if you have kidney disease, you can take steps to keep your kidney damage from getting worse and help you feel your best. Discover how lifestyle changes, nutrition, and exercise can help you improve your overall health.
Medically reviewed by
AKF's Medical Advisory Committee
Last updated
June 6, 2024

Making healthy lifestyle choices can affect your overall health and the health of your kidneys. Your kidneys have an important job: they filter waste from your blood and help control the amount of fluid in your body. Making sure they can do their job as well as possible is important for your health.  

Damage to your kidneys cannot be reversed, but you can take steps to slow down the progression of chronic kidney disease (CKD). If your kidneys aren't working the way they should filter your blood, this can lead to other health issues such as diabetes or high blood pressure (or hypertension), which are leading causes of kidney disease. Adopting healthy lifestyle choices not only supports your kidney function but can also make you feel better and improve your overall health.  

It's important to remember that the effect of lifestyle changes on your kidneys can vary. This depends on things like the stage of kidney disease you might have. So, while making healthy choices is important, the specific benefits can differ from person to person.

Follow a kidney-friendly eating plan

One of the biggest challenges of living with kidney disease is having to change what you eat and drink. Adjusting to this new normal can be confusing and hard. What is healthy for one person could be the opposite of what is healthy for another.   

To help you navigate kidney-friendly eating, AKF created Kidney Kitchen®, a nutrition focused website on the basics of cooking and healthy eating with kidney disease. On Kidney Kitchen you will find information on healthy eating for each stage of kidney disease, key nutrients to keep track of, hundreds of kidney-friendly recipes, and a resource library of guides and videos.

Talk to a dietitian  

Your doctor can refer you to a registered dietitian (someone with special training in dietetics to know which foods are right for people with kidney disease). A dietitian will help you create and follow a kidney-friendly eating plan that includes the foods you enjoy.   

Learn more about working with a dietitian to create a kidney-friendly eating plan

Eat for your stage of kidney disease 

There are many things to consider when eating for your stage of kidney disease. Learn more about healthy eating for your specific stage:  

Nutrients are the building blocks of food. Some of the key nutrients that make up foods include:  

The amount of nutrients you should eat depends on your stage of kidney disease. As always talk to your doctor and dietitian about the amount of nutrients that is right for you.  

Find delicious kidney-friendly recipes

Kidney Kitchen is home to hundreds of kidney-friendly recipes that cover a wide variety of tastes, cuisines and dietary preferen

How to managing kidney disease by being active

Being active can keep your kidneys healthy by helping you:  

  • Stay at a healthy weight  
  • Keep a healthy blood sugar level  
  • Lower your blood pressure  
  • Lower your cholesterol (a waxy, fat-like substance in your blood)  
  • Improve your mental health 

Set a goal to be active for at least 30 minutes, most days of the week. If that seems like too much, start slowly and work your way up. Here are some tips to add activity to your everyday routine:  

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator  
  • Go for a walk after dinner  
  • Try activities you enjoy like dancing, swimming or playing a sport  

Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise plan. Your doctor can help you learn which exercises are safe for you and how often and for how long you should exercise.

Should I limit alcohol use if you have kidney disease?

Drinking too much alcohol can make your blood pressure go up, which in time can lead to kidney disease. If you have kidney disease, it can disrupt the body's fluid balance, worsening kidney disease symptoms and cause kidney damage to get worse over time. 

The general guidelines for drinking alcohol are:  

  • For men: No more than two drinks per day  
  • For women: No more than one drink per day  

Levels of consumption considered moderate for healthy adults may pose risk for those with CKD. Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of medicines and has the potential to worsen conditions that contribute to kidney disease. Talk with your healthcare provider to understand the specific risks and to determine a safe level of consumption for you specifically. 

Should I quit smoking or using tobacco if you have kidney disease?

Tobacco use, in any form, can cause damage to the blood vessels throughout your body, including those in your kidneys. Whether it's smoking cigarettes, using smokeless tobacco, or vaping, these activities can reduce blood flow and increase your blood pressure, which can make kidney disease worse.  

Using tobacco can also cause other serious health problems such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.   

It's important to remember that it's never too late to quit. Quitting tobacco use can significantly improve your kidney health along with your overall well-being. Talk with your health care provider for support and resources on quitting. You can also check out the CDC's Tips From Former Smokers® campaign for additional support. Making the decision to quit can be a powerful step toward a healthier life, directly benefiting your kidneys and enhancing the effectiveness of your CKD management plan.  

How do I manage stress and find support if I have kidney disease?

Stress can have an impact on CKD progression and management. Chronic stress, a persistent state of stress that continues for extended periods, can lead to high blood pressure and poor glucose control, increasing risk factors for kidney disease. Additionally, stress can make it more challenging for you to follow your treatment plans. 

Managing stress through techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and regular physical activity can help improve mental health and potentially slow CKD progression. It's important to find effective stress-relief methods that work and to seek professional help if needed. 

The journey with CKD can be challenging, making social support an invaluable asset. Support from family, friends, healthcare providers, and support groups can provide emotional comfort, practical assistance, and motivation to follow through with treatment plans. 

Social support can also help you cope with the psychological impact of CKD, such as depression and anxiety, and encourage positive lifestyle changes. Engaging with others who understand the challenges of living with kidney disease can offer encouragement, advice, and a sense of community.