Living a heart healthy lifestyle can lower kidney failure risk

Research from the UAB School of Public Health shows that patients with chronic kidney disease may improve their health by making lifestyle behavior changes.

CKD-health_webLifestyle behaviors like working out and improving nutrition can lower the risk of kidney failure in people with chronic kidney disease (CKD), according to new research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

More than 20 million adults in the United States have CKD, and more than 20 percent of adults with hypertension have CKD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, led by Paul Muntner, Ph.D, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, examined how following the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7,” which includes getting active, controlling cholesterol, eating better, managing blood pressure, losing weight, reducing blood sugar and not smoking, affected people with CKD.

“While it is well known that health behaviors and the risk factors we studied are associated with the development of heart disease, the importance of these factors on kidney disease had not been well studied,” Muntner explained.

Using data on 3,093 individuals with stage 3 or 4 CKD from the REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, Muntner and his team evaluated the association between the Life’s Simple 7 components and both kidney failure and death.

Over four years, 160 participants developed kidney failure and 610 participants died. Compared with individuals with kidney disease who had zero or one healthy lifestyle components of the Life’s Simple 7, those with two, three and four ideal factors had progressively lower risks for kidney failure and death. In participants who followed five to seven of the components, none developed kidney failure.

 “These results are not entirely surprising since the benefits of healthy lifestyle on heart disease are well known,” Muntner said. “However, the magnitude of benefit observed with maintaining a healthy lifestyle was pretty dramatic.”

Muntner said findings highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle on a lower risk of kidney failure requiring dialysis or transplantation. Additionally, for people with hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes, controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose is very important, as doing these things may help lower the risk for kidney failure.  

“Unfortunately, many people do not engage in physical activity, eat a healthy diet, etc., so we hope that these data will be motivational,” Muntner added. “People can take control of their health by following the components of Life’s Simple 7, which is available online at

Muntner said future studies are needed where patients with kidney disease modify their lifestyle. This will allow for an investigation into how changes in health behaviors and risk factors affect the development and progression of kidney disease.