Running with PKD
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional nor do I have any professional health or fitness qualifications. This story is about my own personal views, opinions, and experiences of being a runner with PKD and is meant as an informational starting point—not as medical advice. Please consult your medical team if you have any questions or concerns about your own health.
Several times a week, people find my blog by searching terms related to running with PKD (polycystic kidney disease), which prompted me to do a wee Google search to see what others have written on the subject. I was surprised to see so little on the topic, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about it. After all, I am a runner with PKD so I have a little something to add to the (limited) conversation.
(Please feel free to share your own experiences, thoughts, or further information in the comments below or in a private message to me!)
Can you? Should you?
I think the most important thing to know about running with PKD is that most people can! However, it’s not fully without risk, in part because of the jiggling and shaking your kidneys may experience, which may lead to cyst ruptures. To that, the PKD Foundation (USA) states that “sports where impact is minimized” are encouraged, though they note that running is lower on their list of appropriate low-impact sports. (The UK’s PKD Charity doesn’t mention running either way, but does recommend “brisk walking”. See their list of recommended and cautioned-against exercises here.)
In my personal experience, my doctors have always encouraged my running (yes, even marathons!) because it helps to keep my blood pressure in check and is a great way of staying within a healthy weight range—both of which are great ways to maintain kidney health. In addition, my diet tends to be healthier and I generally sleep better when I’m in a good running routine. Again, two things that are great for kidney health!
For what it’s worth: At this point, my kidneys are slightly more than double the average size. I rarely have problems with my them and they’re functioning at normal levels for now. My nephrologist thinks that my active and healthy lifestyle plays a part in that, though it’s acknowledged that there’s a level of luck, too. (To that, my active and “healthy living” aunt went into kidney failure quite quickly despite it all. She’s since had a transplant though and is back to the gym!)
But running isn’t just about running, as any runner knows. Proper nutrition and hydration are vital to keeping healthy—maybe more so for a runner with PKD or other medical conditions.
The Internet is filled with (conflicting) advice about the right amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and more so it’s understandable that a person could get confused. Kelly Welsh, a well-known and highly reputable renal dietician, has provided a good overview of nutritional guidelines for runners with PKD. I recommend you read it and be sure to talk to your nephrologist or nutritionist about your own personal needs.
Personally, if you wondered, I maintain a low-sodium diet (most days!) that’s high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and “healthy” fats, and I limit animal proteins. I also limit myself to one cup of coffee (and no other caffeine) each day. And I drink way too much water. (And maybe way too much beer some days. Hey, I’m only human!)
As for hydration—do it! As a PKD patient, you probably already know about the importance of proper hydration and you should be aware that you’ll need to pay even more attention when you’re running.
Be mindful that your nutritional needs may change as the disease progresses and that being on dialysis will make a difference, too. So—again!—be sure to talk to your doctor about your own requirements.
Running with PKD isn’t without some risk. But then again, running without PKD carries risks, too.
One of the concerns with running with PKD is that the jarring motion may cause a cyst to rupture. In my lifetime of running, this has only happened once, and I’ve run a heckuva lot of miles in my 40 years. Is it painful? Heck yeah! But it (likely) won’t kill you. Of course, if you’re someone who experiences regular ruptures, this will be a bigger concern of yours. (It happens randomly to me once every 18-24 months or so.)
There are also issues of chronic pain for those of you who deal with that. (I’m lucky; I don’t.) If you’re in pain already, you’ll have to determine if running is something that you can cope with. You’ll also want to consider how pain medications might impact your running (and the safety of running).
And, of course, there are the more subtle signs you’ll need to watch out for such as blood in your urine which may be a sign that there’s a problem.
I try to listen to my body and if I feel flank pain or any symptoms of an infection coming on, I’ll take a day off of training and hydrate the heck out of my body instead. If I do get a full-blown infection, I take a few days off from running—but try to walk or lift light weights when/if I feel up to it so that I don’t lose momentum.
(Again, talk to your doctor if these are issues for you.)
Obviously, every PKD patient is going to have their own concerns and issues. This is just meant to be a quick overview to help those who have stumbled upon my blog and isn’t meant as a comprehensive discussion.
To repeat the disclaimer from above: I am not a medical professional nor do I have any professional health or fitness qualifications. This story is about my own personal views, opinions, and experiences of being a runner with PKD and is meant as an informational starting point—not as medical advice. Please consult your medical team if you have any questions or concerns about your own health.
And with that, I wish you good health and happy running!