Why caring for your kidneys is no kidding matter


Globally, 1 in 10 people suffer from Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), marked on 12 March – World Kidney Day. However, most people who have the disease don't know they do. Awareness is key to prevention, so here are 8 ways to care for your kidneys.

The kidneys are complex but incredible organs that do many essential tasks to keep us healthy. However, these hard little workers are easily damaged, and because symptoms of kidney disease are vague, many people only realise once it's too late.

"Poor lifestyle choices are accelerating the progression [of Chronic Kidney Disease] and causing an explosion in its rates,” says Dr Errol Gottlich, a paediatric nephrologist who also works as Clinical Manager of Discovery Health's KidneyCare programme.

Here are some simple but important ways to proactively protect the health of these precious organs. World Kidney Day, a global awareness campaign aimed at highlighting the importance of healthy kidneys, offers these 8 ‘golden rules':

8 lifestyle habits that promote kidney health

1. Monitor your blood pressure

High blood pressure is the most common cause of kidney damage. If your blood pressure level is between 120/80 and 139/89, you're considered pre-hypertensive and need to change your diet and lifestyle. At 140/90 and above, you need to discuss the risks with your doctor and regularly track your blood pressure level.

Discovery Vitality members get rewarded for staying on top of their health, and can earn up to 20 000 points by doing a Vitality Health Check – learn more here.

2. Keep control of your blood sugar level

About half the people who have diabetes develop kidney damage, so if you're diabetic, it's important to regularly test your kidney functions. If detected early, you can reduce or even prevent kidney damage from diabetes, so chat to your doctor about ways to keep control of blood sugar levels.

Discovery Health Medical Scheme members have access to a host of screening and prevention benefits, including blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. Find out more here.

3. Get fit and stay active

Don't underestimate the many health benefits of physical activity. Being fit reduces the risk of Chronic Kidney Disease because regular exercise have been proven to effectively lower both your blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Make sure you get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity a week.

Vitality Active Rewards motivate you to get active more regularly by offering you free weekly rewards for achieving your fitness goal. Plus, learn about exciting surprise rewards here.

4. Eat healthy and keep your weight in check

Good nutrition can help prevent diabetes, heart disease and other conditions associated with CKD, as well as keep your weight under control. Obesity is also a risk factor for many other lifestyle diseases.

If you need some incentive to eat healthier or lose weight, learn how to save on healthy foods with the Vitality HealthyFood benefit and lose weight with Vitality Weight Loss Rewards.

5. Reduce your salt intake

The recommended sodium intake is 5 to 6 grams of salt per day (around a teaspoon). In order to reduce your salt intake, try and eat less processed and takeaway food and don't add salt to your food. Remember, it's much easier to control your sodium intake if you prepare your own food with fresh ingredients.

Learn how to cook using fresh seasonal ingredients and find tasty and healthy recipes at the Discovery Vitality HealthyFood Studio.

6. Maintain a healthy fluid intake

Consuming plenty of fluid helps the kidneys clear sodium, urea and toxins from the body which, significantly lowers the risk of developing chronic kidney disease. If you struggle to drink as much water a day as you know you should, check out these tips to help you hydrate more frequently – plus free recipes for water-rich treats!

7. Don't smoke

Smoking slows the flow of blood to the kidneys. When less blood reaches the kidneys, it impairs their ability to function properly. Smoking also increases the risk of kidney cancer by about 50%. And vaping is not much better as it dehydrates you, which is bad for your kidneys too.

8. Avoid taking over-the-counter pills on a regular basis

Common medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen) can cause kidney damage and disease if taken regularly. If you need to manage chronic pain like arthritis or back pain, talk to your doctor about ways to manage your pain without putting your kidneys at risk.
So don't be one of the thousands of South Africans who are taken aback when diagnosed with kidney disease. Awareness of CKD is key to its prevention. Look out for your kidneys' health by having regular health checks and by following healthy lifestyle habits – your kidneys with thank you for it!

Detect disease early with preventive screenings

As a Discovery Health Medical Scheme member, you have access to screening and prevention benefits at any one of our wellness providers that cover blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index checks and HIV screening.

Find out more about your screening and prevention benefits

Get rewarded for protecting their health

Discovery Vitality members can earn up to 20 000 points by doing a Vitality Health Check at an accredited Vitality Wellness Centre, a Vitality Wellness Network pharmacy, a Discovery Store or a Discovery Wellness Day. This screening includes checking your blood pressure, blood glucose / HbA1c, cholesterol, weight assessment and smoking habits.

You can also earn 1 000 Vitality points for getting a flu vaccination this season.

See what other Vitality screening and prevention benefits you qualify for here.

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