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See related pages: Measure Up with healthy eating and Nutrition & Lifestyle

Many chronic diseases are preventable for most people through healthy lifestyle choices

Chronic diseases are conditions that tend to be long-lasting and persistent in their symptoms or development - such as some cancers, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. These are major diseases which may require ongoing medication and treatment. Health problems you would rather avoid.

When does your waist circumference become a health risk?

Evidence shows that improving diet and being more physically active can help prevent or delay the onset of some chronic diseases.

If your waist measures in this 'at risk' range, it is an indicator of internal fat deposits, which can coat the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas and significantly increase risk of chronic disease. It is not yet clear exactly what links intra-abdominal fat with chronic disease, but what is clear is that even a small deposit of this fat increases the risk that you will have serious health problems.

*Waist circumference should only be used for adults to check the risk of developing a chronic disease. Measurements that indicate increased risks for children and teenagers have not yet been developed. How do you correctly measure your waist circumference? Work out your individual Body Mass Index BMI (BMI) here and understand more on why it is important.

Swap it - Don't stop it
 - simple and easy

Make some swaps throughout your day, you can help decrease your risk of chronic disease. It could be getting off the bus a couple of stops early- and walking, or swapping an afternoon chocolate bar - for a piece of fruit.

Swap sitting on the couch watching TV - for pedaling an exercise bike while watching.

Swap inside for outside activities, or a big meal for a small meal for instance - these small changes can add up and make all the difference. The best thing is that you can swap as you go about your everyday life - at work, at home or even out shopping. Try Measure Up 12 week planner for a good start, create your own swaps!

Useful links: Various lifestyle tips here. If English is not your first language, see other language resources
External resources: Your Health, Your Choices - Online Tools & Calculators NHS - UK


If you have a waist measurement in this 'at risk' range - it is an indicator of internal fat deposits, which can coat the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas and increase the risk of chronic disease. Simple measures can decrease your risk of chronic disease associated with these fatty deposits.

Some people with CKD find strenuous sport or activities too tiring but enjoy gentler exercise, such as walking, yoga and Tai Chi. Keep in mind some contact sports such as football may need to be avoided particularly after a transplant. If you are on peritoneal dialysis you need to protect your catheter while exercising.

If you have advanced kidney disease but not yet on dialysis, or had a transplant, you may find it difficult to improve your fitness – but it is possible. Only do as much exercise as is comfortable for you. Your health team will give you advice on how to do this. If you have CKD, for more on this topic, go to our Fitness webpage, under Management.

Links to KHA resources: Living With Kidney Disease (7th Edition) - Chapter 12: Getting The Most Out Of Life

External resources - Recommended for people with CKD from DaVita USA:

Simple indoor exercise for people on dialysis  I  Exercise for people with CKD

Exercise for dialysis patients – Of course, you can exercise  I  Indoor exercises for people on dialysis

Get moving!

There are no “magical” solutions to losing weight. It takes time to put on weight - it takes time to lose it.

If you lose weight slowly and make changes to your lifestyle that you can stick with for life. Regular exercise can help you feel you have more control over life. Develop your own health action plan to get you motivated. Regular physical activity helps by:

  • reducing your risk of heart problems by lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol, increasing ‘good’ cholesterol and reducing triglycerides
  • helps to maintain body weight
  • helps to control blood pressure and blood sugar 
  • lifts your mood, fights depression and improves your sleep

Getting started
Before you start, be sure to chat with your doctor to make sure there is nothing to stop you exercising safely. The key to getting fit is to start slowly and gradually increase the time and intensity of your activities. Aim to do some physical activity for at least 30 minutes three – four times weekly. Start slowly with three sessions of ten minutes, which can be increased as you become fitter. 

Important: Stretching before exercise helps prevent injury!
It gets blood to body parts that are working when you exercise, reduces cramping and helps you move more comfortably. Think about which muscle(s) you want to stretch. Stretch gently until you feel slight tension, hold for 10 to 20 seconds without bouncing. The muscle should feel more relaxed as you hold your stretch. If it doesn’t, relax more until you can hold the stretch comfortably.

Stretches should be gentle, not painful. If you fell discomfort, relax the stretch and breathe deeply. Pain can be a sign you are over-stretching. Breathe in as you stretch, then slowly out as you hold the position. Sit or stand up straight between stretches - maintain good posture during all your exercises.

Drink Water Instead
While we can last weeks without food, we can last only a few days without water. Water not only helps to maintain essential bodily functions such as regulating body temperature and carrying nutrients and oxygen around the body, we also need water to rid our bodies of waste. In fact, water is needed for pretty much everything your body does.

Remember it is important to hydrate when you exercise: Drink Water Instead - an extra glass will help stave off food cravings, or delay hunger pangs, helping tide you over for longer between meals. Try to drink water through the day, rather than sugary soft drinks or fruit juices. Water has zero calories, no sugar and no fat, so you can enjoy it with a clear conscience!

Signs you should STOP!
It is important to stop exercising, cool down and tell your health care team if you get:

  • chest pain or pressure
  • dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • irregular or very fast heart rate
  • excessive shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • severe leg cramps
  • pain or pressure in the neck or jaw
  • excessive tiredness
  • blurring vision

Get yourself and the family on the move!
Less active family members need encouragement and support Ideally find an activity you can do together. Get everyone in the family moving:

  • play actively with your children – skip, jump on the trampoline
  • include physical activity in family outings
  • take your dog (or the neighbour’s dog) for a walk
  • put on some music and dance with your kids
  • buy a fitness DVD or game - get the entire family to join in
  • keep a box full of bats, balls, frisbees etc – at home and in the car, ready for action
  • walk with your children to school - practice spelling and maths homework on the move
  • walk and talk - take a walk with friends to catch up, instead of just meeting for coffee
  • try pilates, yoga, ten-pin bowling, swimming or a new dance class

Be sure to lift in the right way and not overdo it, especially if you've been inactive for some time. If you are, or have been pregnant, have been inactive or suffer from any medical conditions, it is recommended you seek medical advice before starting vigorous physical activity. Read Physical Activity Guidelines for adults and review tips for getting active

You can lower your risk of Chronic Kidney Disease and other chronic disease

Increasing your physical activity combined with healthy eating is recommended to reduce your risk of chronic disease and maximise your health. Choosing this lifestyle can help protect your family from type 2 diabetes, heart and kidney disease, becoming overweight or obese, some cancers and other health problems.

Chronic disease has a disproportionate impact on some population groups, particularly Indigenous Australians.
Check out Tomorrow People (Australian Government Initiative) designed to guide you on how to become healthier and living longer – today, tomorrow and into the future.

If you do not act now you may eventually be diagnosed with a chronic disease and your lifestyle will be changed forever. You may require ongoing medication and treatment for life. Here are just some health problems which may occur if you are overweight.

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) - A condition that makes the heart work harder to pump blood throughout your body. Hypertension contributes to the hardening of your arteries and heart failure.
  • Fatty Liver Disease - Describes a range of conditions caused by an accumulation of fat in the liver and can cause your liver to function abnormally. One common cause of Fatty Liver Disease is obesity.
  • High cholesterol Cholesterol is a type of fat - if you have too much, it starts to build up in your arteries and can harden them. As a result, if you have high cholesterol you have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
  • Infertility - Being overweight can lead to hormonal changes that can cause infertility. Infertility is a condition where you are unable to conceive a child.
  • Impotence - Overweight or obese men have a 30 per cent increased chance of impotence. Research has found that 8 of 10 men with erectile problems are overweight.
  • Sleep apnoea - Disorder that causes you to pause in breathing or take shallow breaths while you sleep. This occurs when your throat muscles and tongue relax during sleep and block your airways. Sleep apnoea occurs more often in people who are overweight and increases the likelihood of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and heart failure.
  • Stress - Overweight people face increased risk of psychological problems such as social isolation, depression and difficulty with interpersonal relationships

Health eating and lifestyle advice to help avoid chronic disease:

  • choose low GI smart carbs (ideally less than GI 55) to maximise body fat loss as well as cardiovascular benefits, choose foods low in salt and limit saturated fat - eat good fats instead
  • consume only moderate amounts of sugars - limit food and drinks which contain added sugar
  • reduce your portion size - In most cases, regular overeating causes raised triglycerides which are linked with an increased risk of chronic disease, including diabetes and heart disease
  • drink water instead as water satisfies thirst without any calories
  • drink alcohol in moderation - limit to 2 standard drinks per day - consider regular alcohol free days

Lifestyle changes which may help you avoid chronic disease

  • become a non-smoker - smokers are 3 times more likely to have reduced kidney function, 4 to 5 times greater risk of heart attack and stroke
  • take medications only as prescribed by your doctor - Medicine Line 1300 888 763 - for advice on your prescription and other medications if in doubt
  • make 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a regular habit - helps with stress too
  • be aware of your family medical history - if any blood family relatives had kidney disease or other chronic disease, as you may be 'at risk' too
  • maintain a positive 'stay well' attitude - do things that help you to relax and reduce stress

Websites from Measure Up on physical activity

Websites on chronic disease

Updated 9 August 2013 
Disclaimer: Information provided is intended as an introduction to this topic and not meant to substitute for your doctor's or health professional's advice. All care is taken to ensure this information is relevant and applicable to each Australian state. Kidney Health Australia recognises each person's experience is individual and variations do occur in treatment and management due to personal circumstances. Consult a healthcare professional for specific treatment recommendations.

  The material contained on this site does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for information purposes only. Published by Kidney Health Australia. Privacy Policy. For information about website content please contact the National Communications Manager.

© 2008 Kidney Health Australia

Last updated: Apr 2014.