John R. Smith had just completed a stationary cardio-cycling session at an exercise intervention lab at Commonwealth University of Virginia – supervised and encouraged by Rehabilitation and Movement Science PhD students Natalie Bohmke and Nico Chavez – and now it was time for a few weightlifting sets.
“Alright Mr. Smith, what’s your favorite activity for today?” Chavez asked. “Bicep curls, shoulder press, chest press?” What do you think?”
âLet’s do some biceps,â said Smith, a New Kent resident and retired New Jersey utility executive, grabbing a few dumbbells.
“[Bohmke and Chavez] don’t play, they are tough! Smith said. âBut they’ve been so, so helpful to me. It takes a team effort, and it’s Team A.
Smith is one of nine Richmond area residents to date who have been referred to a newly launched program from the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences at the College of Humanities and Humanities that provides patients with d ‘chronic kidney disease and kidney transplant free exercise rehabilitation, as well as nutritional counseling and lifestyle behavior change support.
The program, called Renal Rehab, aims to integrate regular physical activity and exercise into routine care for patients across the spectrum of chronic kidney disease, which affects more than one in seven adults, or 15% of the American population.
“For patients with chronic kidney disease, a lot of research has shown that exercise is beneficial for a myriad of health outcomes, including physical and mental health,” said Danielle Kirkman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences and Director of Renal Rehab. “But while there is a lot of supporting evidence, we still do not see exercise rehabilitation implemented as part of routine care for kidney disease.”
Renal Rehab was launched earlier this year, she said, to help fill this gap for the community of Richmond. He helps patients referred by VCU Health clinicians to start a safe physical activity and lifestyle program in a non-intimidating environment and supported by a doctorate in rehabilitation and movement science. students like Bohmke and Chavez, as well as masters students and undergraduate interns.
âI love that stuff,â Chavez said. âOf everything we do, all the research, all the different projects that we’re involved in, this is by far my favorite, mainly because of the relationships and connections you make with people.
âA lot of kidney disease patients may not have a lot of experience with exercise, and especially with their condition it is quite intimidating to go to any random gym, to walk in and seeing all these people in great shape. Many patients can come in and say, âYou know what? I have no place here, âhe said. âSo it’s just great to give them a place to come and train and to have someone to encourage them and help them learn to exercise safely based on their condition. “
One of the best parts, said Bohmke, is seeing the progress of the participants.
âIt’s very gratifying to see the improvements Mr. Smith and other patients have made during the program,â she said. âIt’s just amazing to see. You see them gain confidence and strength, but we also do lab tests and we find that these patients are managing their diabetes better and improving their cholesterol levels through exercise.
âOf everything we do, all the research, all the different projects that we’re involved in, this is by far my favorite, mainly because of the relationships and connections you make with people.
The program takes a multidisciplinary approach to improving patient health and outcomes, Kirkman said. Salvatore Carbone, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences, leads nutrition counseling, while Alexander Lucas, Ph.D., instructor at the VCU Pauley Heart Center and the Department of Behaviors and School of Medicine‘s health policies, conducts lifestyle advice. VCU Health partners include Jason M. Kidd, MD, associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, and Gaurav Gupta, MD, associate professor and transplant nephrologist in the Department of Internal Medicine.
In addition to helping patients, the program also gives VCU students the opportunity to gain first-hand experience by learning about kidney disease and helping people in the community.
Research is also part of the program. Participants can opt for routine physiological and quality of life assessments throughout the program. These data could help answer unanswered cutting-edge research questions in the field of physical activity, cardiovascular and kidney health, Kirkman said.
âOur program integrates the three pillars of higher education: community engagement, teaching and learning, and research,â she said.
Smith is waiting for a kidney transplant. His doctors referred him to the program, telling him it would be good preparation before a transplant. Since starting the program, Smith said he felt stronger, healthier and more mobile.
âWhen I got here I used a walker. And, as they could probably tell you, I wasn’t very good at the exercises, âhe said. âIt has helped me a lot since then. I no longer need my walker, I can now walk with just a cane.
For Smith, the program benefited his health as well as his confidence. He said he would recommend it to other potential kidney transplant patients.
âWhen you go through this it really inspires me,â he said. âBecause after doing the exercises, you feel much better. I feel like I can have an operation or just about anything.
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