March is National Kidney Month. The kidneys are two fist-sized organs that sit just below the rib cage on either side of the spine. Your kidneys help your body perform many important functions. Most importantly, they filter waste and excess fluid out of your blood, which are then stored in your bladder and expelled through urine. Your kidneys also activate vitamin D for bone and muscle health, release hormones that help regulate blood pressure and red blood cell production, regulate your body’s pH, and maintain appropriate balances of potassium and calcium in the blood.  

Kidney disease means having kidney damage. When the disease occurs over a long period of time, it is called chronic kidney disease or CKD for short. CKD can lead to a buildup of waste in the blood, weaker bones, high blood pressure, and raise the risk of heart disease and stroke. If CKD worsens, it may lead to kidney failure, which is treated with dialysis or a kidney transplant.  

1. Get tested for kidney disease 

Many people don’t know they have kidney disease because symptoms are typically not noticeable at early stages. Anyone can get CKD, but the risk is higher for individuals with diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, a family history of kidney failure, recurring kidney stones, or being age 60 or older.  

Your physician can test for kidney disease with a blood test called an eGFR and a urine test called a uACR. Knowing your own test result numbers is important as there are different stages of kidney disease. It is possible to maintain and potentially improve CKD through lifestyle choices, some of which are listed below.  

2. Monitor blood pressure 

High blood pressure can cause kidney damage. A healthy blood pressure reading is 120/80 or less. Prehypertension is up to 139/89. Blood pressure readings above 140/90 or higher are considered hypertension. If your blood pressure is high, talk to your doctor as it may require medication. Healthy lifestyle changes including reducing salt intake, eating 2-3 fruits and 3-5 vegetables per day, and exercising regularly can also help reduce blood pressure.  

3. Exercise regularly 

Regular exercise can lower the risk for kidney disease. Exercise can also help to reduce blood pressure, boost your cardiovascular health, and control blood sugar levels, which are important for kidney disease prevention.  

Regular exercise looks like at least 150 minutes (about 2 and a half hours) of moderate intensity aerobic activity, such as walking, running, cycling, dancing, or swimming. 2 and a half hours may seem like a lot, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Consider breaking it down into 30 minutes 5 days per week. Additionally, it’s recommended to participate in muscle strengthening activities, such as lifting weights, using resistance bands, or body weight exercises like push-ups, lunges, and sit ups, on at least 2 days per week.

4. Manage blood sugar 

Individuals with diabetes or prediabetes are at an increased risk for kidney disease. When your blood sugar is high, your kidneys have to work extra hard to filter your blood. Overexerting your kidney’s filtration mechanisms over time can cause severe damage. 

If you have diabetes, it’s important to manage your blood sugar with diet and properly taking medications or insulin as directed.  

If you don’t have diabetes, it’s equally important to consider keeping your blod sugar levels stable throughout the day by eating frequently enough, and balancing carbohydrate-containing foods with protein, healthy fats, and fiber. 

5. Eat a balanced diet 

A balanced diet is low in sodium, processed meats, fried foods, and sodas. Focus on eating diet that contains a variety of whole foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and lean sources of protein. Try lower sodium versions of packaged foods and be mindful that restaurant foods are often prepared with a lot of salt.  

If you are diagnosed with CKD, depending on the stage, there may be further dietary recommendations to pay attention to. It’s important to seek out the help of a registered dietitian (RD) for dietary guidance if your CKD is stage 3A or higher. 

6. Stay well hydrated 

Regular, consistent fluid intake is healthy for your kidneys. Water helps clear sodium and toxins from your kidneys and reduces the risk of CKD.  

Exactly how much water you need depends on your unique lifestyle and health. A way to estimate approximately how much fluid you need is to take your body weight in pounds, divide it in half, and use that number as a goal for fluid ounces per day. Try to consume water or other unsweetened, decaffeinated beverages to meet your needs. 

If you’ve had kidney stones in the past, you may need to drink a bit more to prevent future stone formation in the future.  

7. Stop smoking 

Smoking causes damage to your blood vessels and puts you at an increased risk of kidney damage. If you stop smoking, your risk decreases.  

8. Limit OTC medication use 

According to the National Kidney Foundation, using over the counter (OTC) medications including ibuprofen, naproxen, or other NSAIDs, can damage your kidneys if taken for more than 10 days in a row for pain or more than 3 days in a row for fever. People with no kidney problems who take these medications occasionally are likely fine. However, if you use these medicines daily, talk to your physician about kidney-safe treatment alternatives to decrease the risk of kidney damage.  

Your kidneys are a vital organ to your overall health. It’s important to take care of your kidneys by maintaining an active, health-conscious lifestyle. If you have kidney disease or are at an increased risk, work closely with your physician to monitor and reduce your risk of kidney damage.  


NIDDK, Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) 

National Kidney Foundation, How your kidneys work 

AHA, Understanding Blood Pressure Readings 

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 

National Kidney foundation, Pain Medicines