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Cycling During Dialysis? It Might Help Patients

FRIDAY, April 16, 2021 -- Dialysis is time-consuming, making it hard for kidney failure patients to keep fit. But cycling during treatment sessions could boost patients' heart health and cut medical costs, new research shows.

Dialysis can lead to long-term scarring of the heart, which can eventually lead to heart failure, so British researchers decided to find out if exercise could reduce these side effects.

"We know that being more active can help reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as helping to control weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve mental health," said chief investigator James Burton. He's a professor of renal medicine at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust in the United Kingdom.

"For all those reasons -- but especially because the risk of heart disease is so high -- keeping active is particularly important for people on dialysis," Burton said in a university news release.

For the study, participants were offered 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on a specially adapted bicycle during their regular dialysis sessions. MRI scans of their hearts were done six months later and compared with pre-study images.

Patients who cycled during dialysis showed a number of improvements in heart health, the researchers reported. Their hearts were a more normal size and they had less scarring and less stiffness of major blood vessels.

In addition, the health care costs were about $1,900 lower for patients who cycled during dialysis, the researchers reported.

The findings were published online April 8 in the journal Kidney International.

Staying fit is a challenge for dialysis patients, Burton noted. "Unfortunately, by the time that someone has traveled to and from the dialysis unit, and spent four hours connected up to the dialysis machine, there's very little time to do anything else that day, and the reality is that this happens three times a week for most patients," he said.

The study findings offer a chance for significant improvements to patients' heart health, which may, in turn, have a big impact on their overall outlook, Burton added.

Cycling while having dialysis is now included in the U.K. Renal Association's guidelines, and researchers plan to investigate the possibility of making it available to more patients across the United Kingdom.

One-quarter of deaths among U.K. dialysis patients between 2009 and 2018 were due to heart disease, according to the U.K. Renal Registry.

© 2021 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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