British Columbia

How pedal power is giving a boost to dialysis patients

Since April, patients at the Duncan Community Dialysis Unit and Nanaimo Regional General Hospital have been piloting the project, in which small foot cycles are offered to patients to help pass the time, increase strength — and improve dialysis results.

Using a foot cycle during treatment has improved endurance, strength and dialysis results, studies say

Lois Cossar says pedalling during her dialysis treatments helps improve her strength and blood pressure, and even helps with her diabetes. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

Lois Cossar says she's on a mission to cycle across Canada from her dialysis chair. 

Cossar, who began dialysis treatments in Duncan, B.C., two years ago after kidney failure, says a cycling pilot program now offered at the city's dialysis centre is helping to pass the time during treatments.

"I personally have [cycled] myself down to the bottom of [Vancouver] Island, across to Tsawwassen, and now I'm just past Cultus Lake," said Cossar of the 700 kilometres she's pedalled so far.

"Newfoundland is 8,300 kilometres away. Maybe we could make it by Christmas!" 

The cycles have small foot pedals that make them convenient for patients to move while sitting. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

Since April, patients at the Duncan Community Dialysis Unit and Nanaimo Regional General Hospital have been piloting the project, in which small foot cycles, like mini exercise bikes, are offered to patients to help pass the time, increase strength — and improve dialysis results.

Health benefits

Studies say that pedalling has a multitude of benefits for patients, such as increasing energy and mobility, improving endurance and blood pressure, and removing toxins from the blood more quickly. 

Dr. Michael Garfinkle, a kidney specialist in Nanaimo, said exercise "brings more bloodflow to the toxins in the muscles" that "accumulate between dialysis treatments." Toxins are then absorbed and cleared out the body more efficiently.

Larger centres in Alberta and Manitoba have offered dialysis exercise programs for a few years now.

Calais Gionet, the project lead at the Nanaimo hospital, said the idea came from a conference presentation held late last year by a medical team in Calgary.

"We then shadowed a group in Prince George who runs a similar program," she said.

A visible success

Lynda Findlay, a nurse at the Duncan centre, said during treatments patients usually sit in a chair for more than four hours while a machine next to them runs their blood through a dialyzer before returning it to their bodies.

Doing this three times a week can cause muscle loss and restlessness — but cycling has helped.

"Their physical strength is improving. A lot of them are happier to be here and, of course, it's a great distraction," she said, adding that more than 50 per cent of the centre's patients are now cycling for up to 40 minutes during each session.

Anita Rand, the frontline nurse at the centre, said she's refreshed to be part of a nursing team that's bringing this program to the Island. 

"[To] have them feel well on dialysis — that's huge," she explained. 

Anita Rand is the frontline nurse at the Duncan Community Dialysis Facility. She says she's seen incredible results since the program started in April. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

Rand said one patient was doubtful of the program at first.

"He said, 'Maybe I could do this for five minutes.' He had a lot of breathing problems. [After] over a month, we have him up to 17 minutes now, and he is starting to get stronger … and his breathing is better."

Cossar said pedalling has also helped with her diabetes by allowing her to skip her morning insulin shots.

"I don't take any insulin until noon," she said. "My numbers are very good."

She said she'll feel very accomplished when she finally makes it to Newfoundland for Christmas.

About the Author

Adam van der Zwan is a journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. You can send him a news tip at adam.van.der.zwan@cbc.ca.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.