Chronic kidney disease is estimated to affect around 26 million adults in the US. But new research suggests that patients with the condition can reduce the need for a kidney transplant or dialysis and prolong life, simply by walking more.

The research team, from the China Medical University Hospital in Taiwan, recently published their findings in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), or chronic renal failure, is defined as a gradual loss of kidney function. As the disease becomes more severe, the kidneys can find it hard to remove waste and excess water from the body. A waste build-up can lead to other health problems, such as high blood pressure, anemia, nerve damage and poor nutritional health.

The final stage of kidney disease is known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD), or kidney failure. This is when the kidneys stop working completely. At this point, a patient would require dialysis – a form of treatment that replicates some functions of a working kidney – or a kidney transplant to maintain life.

Patients with CKD can often experience fatigue and lack of energy, which, in turn, can reduce their levels of physical activity. In this latest study, the researchers wanted to see whether a simple exercise – walking – could offer benefits to CKD patients.

The team analyzed 6,363 CKD patients of an average age of 70 years between June 2003 and May 2013. All patients were between stages 3 and 5 of the disease and were followed for an average of 1.3 years.

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Researchers say that for CKD patients, walking 30 minutes a week or more may reduce the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant and prolong life.

Walking was reported as the most common form of exercise among 21% of patients.

The researchers found that overall, patients who walked for exercise were 21% less likely to need dialysis or a kidney transplant and 33% less likely to die, compared with patients who did not engage in this physical activity.

The team also found that the more walking patients did, the less likely they were to die. Those who walked 1-2 times a week were 17% less likely to die than patients who did not walk, while those who walked, 3-4, 5-6 and 7 times or more a week were 28%, 58% and 59% less likely to die, respectively.

Patients who walked 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7 times or more a week were also 19%, 27%, 43% and 44% less likely to need dialysis or a kidney transplant, respectively, compared with those who did not walk.

Commenting on the team’s findings, study co-leader Dr. Che-Yi Chou says:

We have shown that CKD patients with comorbidities were able to walk if they wanted to, and that walking for exercise is associated with improved patient survival and a lower risk of dialysis.

A minimal amount of walking – just once a week for less than 30 minutes – appears to be beneficial, but more frequent and longer walking may provide a more beneficial effect.”

And it is not only CKD patients that may benefit from walking. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that for seniors over the age of 65, increasing walking distance or pace may reduce the risk of heart attack.

A 2013 study from the American Cancer Society also found that walking may reduce the risk of breast cancer for postmenopausal women.