Greater muscle mass may benefit dialysis patients

May 1, 2014


Dialysis patients may benefit from muscle-building activities.

The kidneys are essential because they work non-stop to filter waste from the body's blood that, if allowed to accumulate, would cause harm. Additionally, they produce important hormones that can help maintain bone strength, control blood pressure and produce blood cells, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. If the kidneys fail, patients have to start a therapy known as hemodialysis, which uses a machine to artificially filter the blood when the kidneys cannot. Though this can keep patients alive while they wait for kidney transplants, it can be a major adjustment to life because it is time-consuming, and individuals may experience a loss of energy.

However, new research published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology suggests that dialysis patients who have a higher muscle mass may have a better quality of life than those who have a lower muscle mass.

Survival is 'likely to improve'
To find out whether muscle mass is a modifiable factor that can actually impact quality of life for dialysis patients, the authors of the new study evaluated 105 dialysis patients. The scientists recorded factors such as body mass index, intra-abdominal fat, mid-thigh muscle area and waist circumference. All research participants also answered questionnaires about their mental and physical health, and underwent a six-minute walking test. These evaluations were conducted three times during the course of one year.

Results showed that higher BMI, intra-abdominal fat and waist circumference measurements were associated with shorter distances during the six-minute walking test. However, after adjusting for BMI, the researchers discovered that patients who had greater muscle mass walked a longer distance and had higher mental and physical health scores.

"Because this study shows that higher muscle mass is associated with better physical function and quality of life in dialysis patients, interventions such as increased physical activity that decrease fat mass and increase muscle mass are likely to improve physical function, quality of life, and survival in dialysis patients," study co-author Srinivasan Beddhu, M.D., said in a statement. "Such interventions need to be tested in clinical trials."

In the meantime, dialysis patients who want to know more about how to safely engage in muscle-building exercises can consult a sports medicine physician to learn what level of physical activity is appropriate, and what adjustments may be needed. These specialists will also be able to provide tips on injury prevention during exercise.

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