How Exercise Can Help You
There are many well-known benefits to exercise in the general population
that can apply to transplant patients as well. These include:
- Stronger muscles and bones
- Improved sleep
- Increased cardiovascular fitness
- Increased energy
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Lower blood pressure
- Better controlled blood sugar
- Improved mood
- Better memory
Studies have also shown that transplant patients who take part in exercise training experience many benefits. These include:
- Stronger muscles
- Increased ability to return to work and leisure activities
- Increased exercise capacity
- Lower blood pressure
- Better quality of life
Transplant candidates and recipients experience different challenges in the various stages of transplantation and must follow different exercise plans:
- Pre-transplant patients often need to be supervised when taking part in physical activity.
- Unwell or recent recipients may be followed by a physiotherapist post-transplant while in hospital (who could provide more information about exercise) or should visit another exercise specialist for a tailored exercise program after hospital discharge.
- Long-term recipients who are feeling well can follow a general exercise program such as the one that is introduced below.
Exercise for Long-Term Recipients
Physical activity is safe for organ transplant recipients– it is key for staying healthy! In some cases, there are special limitations or considerations, but in most cases, exercise is an integral part of the recovery. It is important to make sure you start slowly and gradually increase your activity level. It is best to start with low intensity exercises, such as riding an indoor exercise bicycle or taking a brisk walk or a slow jog on the ground or treadmill.
It is important to choose activities that you enjoy in order to make sure you stay on track and remain active throughout the journey of transplantation. All effective exercise programs must incorporate a warm up and cool down period, as well as a set of exercises/ activities that are directed at your specific goals:
- Warm up by doing light aerobic activity, like marching on the spot or cycling. Here is a warm-up exercise routine that can be done before a walking program or just on it’s own to get you up and moving. It takes about 5-10 minutes to go through these warm-up exercises. (Disclaimer: If you are not currently active, please consult your transplant team prior to engaging in an exercise program.)
- Push yourself to a level of activity that increases your heart or breathing rate – try to maintain that level for several minutes to make sure you are getting a good workout for your heart.
- Cool down with light aerobic activities again, followed by stretches for your arm and leg muscles. Stretching exercises should be done after your muscles are warm, such as after going for a walk or doing your warm-up exercises. These are stretches for the main muscle groups of your arms and legs. (Disclaimer: If you are not currently active, please consult your transplant team prior to engaging in an exercise program.)
To achieve maximum benefits, you should build-up to accumulating at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in sessions of 10 minutes or longer. It is also beneficial to add muscle-strengthening activities using major muscle groups, 2 to 3 days per week, with 1 day of rest in between to allow your muscles to recover. To increase your muscle strength, you should select a weight that you can lift 8 to 10 times and by the end of the set, your muscle feels tired. One set of each exercise is a good starting point for muscle strengthening. Once the weight lifting exercise becomes easy (your muscle no longer feels tired), you can increase the weight you are lifting or add a second set of the exercise.
More physical activity provides greater health benefits. It is good to mix up the types of physical activity that you take part in:
- Aerobic activities cause your heart rate to increase by using large muscle groups in a rhythmic manner (i.e., walking, cycling, swimming). These activities are beneficial for your heart, lungs and circulatory system.
- Resistance training activities improve muscle function and bone health (i.e., lifting weights, yoga). These activities should be done 2-3 per week.
- Balance activities can help prevent falls and improve coordination and core stabilization (i.e., yoga, tai chi, standing on one foot).
- Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and give you more freedom of movement (i.e., stretches, pilates, forward bends).
Understanding your Limits
To avoid injury, it is important to be aware of your limits. There are certain steps you can follow to make sure you are not pushing your body too far:
- Reduce your activity level if your exercise program has been interrupted for a few days due to weather, vacation or illness.
- Do not exercise if you are not feeling well (e.g. if you have a fever, diagnosed with new infection, feel nauseous or dizzy).
- If you are unusually short of breath or feel very tired during any activity, slow down or take a rest.
- If you experience joint or muscle pain during the exercise, stop and rest. If the pain persists see a doctor.
- Stop exercising and rest if you: have pain or pressure in your chest, neck, shoulder, arm, back or jaw, trouble swallowing, talking or seeing, feel weak or lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous, have unexplained swelling, cold sweats, severe muscle cramps, or feel any other symptoms of concern. If symptoms persist see a doctor.
Participate in the Canadian Transplant Games!
The Canadian Transplant Games are held every two years and are hosted by the Canadian Transplant Association. The purpose of the Games is to increase organ & tissue donation in Canada and beyond, to demonstrate the active and healthy life that is achievable after transplant, to thank donor and donor families for their gift of life and to raise awareness and educate the public on organ & tissue donation. These Games are open to all transplant recipients, regardless of whether or not they are athletes. For information visit Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CTAtransplantgames/ or visit www.canadiantransplant.com
Find a Rehab Program Near You
See the National Transplant Rehabilitation Program Directory for a complete list of Canadian transplant rehabilitation/ exercise programs. If you would like to add your centre to this list, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks given to the physiotherapists Nancy Howes (London Health Sciences Centre), Lisa Wickerson, Denise Helm (Toronto General Hospital) for contributing to the creation of this page.