Aerobic exercise may improve the physical and mental health of patients on maintenance hemodialysis and may also extend their lives, according to a study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

The study included 5,763 patients on maintenance hemodialysis who were followed for a median of 1.6 years. The researchers found that those who did aerobic workouts had fewer symptoms of depression, better health-related quality of life, and were 40 percent less likely to die during the study than those who did little or no exercise. These benefits were similar regardless of patients’ age, sex, length of time they’d been on dialysis, and diabetes status.

While the researchers found an association between aerobic exercise and mood, quality of life, and risk of an earlier death, the study wasn’t designed to prove that exercise was the direct cause of these improvements.

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Additionally, aerobic activity wasn’t linked to prolonged survival for those on dialysis who also had heart failure. However, aerobic exercise was associated with a reduced risk of depression and an increased health-related quality of life for dialysis patients with heart failure. Strength and flexibility exercises did not provide the same benefits as aerobic workouts.

“In addition, aerobic physical activity levels were found to be higher for patients treated in dialysis units offering an exercise program compared with units not offering an exercise program, pointing to the possibility to improve patient physical activity levels through greater availability of such programs for hemodialysis patients,” study author Antonio Alberto Lopes, M.D., of the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil, said in a journal news release.


  1. Lopes, Antonio Alberto. “Associations of Self-Reported Physical Activity Types and Levels with Quality of Life, Depression Symptoms, and Mortality in Hemodialysis Patients: The DOPPS.” Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. doi: 10.2215/​CJN.12371213. October 2014.