We might think that a person who has had a kidney or heart transplant must lead a sedentary life, but there is nothing further from the truth. A sports club for transplantees from Cataluña, Spain, is promoting the idea that people with a new organ can not only enjoy physical activity and exercise, but can also compete in national and international competitions.

In addition to these benefits, exercise helps them stay healthy. Immunosuppressant medication can damage patients’ muscles and bones (because of changes in lipid, cholesterol and triglyceride levels). Sport can help prevent this, agreed Dr. Vicente Torredroso, of Unidad de Trasplante Renal del Hospital Clínico in Barcelona..

The Cataluña team consists of patients who have had transplants of the kidney, liver, lungs and pancreas. In the group there are two kinds of athletes: Those who played sports before they needed the transplant and those who didn’t exercise competitively but who knew that they benefitted from physical practices like running and walking, Soler said. He said that patients must find ways to take responsibility of their own treatment. Nutrition and sport are two ways to do this.

Monitoring

When the transplantee begins to practice sports after the operation, he or she should be monitored by a doctor, sports specialist or specialized trainer. It is important that all patients, especially those who are older than 40, should undergo to a stress test to check their physical condition, Soler said.

The fundamental routine before beginning any sports practice for the team includes stretches and warm-ups as much to get ready to play as to protect their organs. Soler said that once the patient knows some techniques for controlling their activity, they can start to become independent and do more by themselves. They should always, however, be assessed by a trainer who knows the patient’s objectives and progress.

Different exercise

Although there are no big differences between transplantees of different organs, there are some factors that the athletes must take into account. For example, people who have a new heart are told to build stamina, while kidney transplantees don’t need such intensive practice. And, people who receive a liver usually lose a lot of their muscle mass while undergoing treatment, and now will a very difficult rehabilitation.

After 35 years of transplants, the goals for patients have become wider. The principal problem has been to avoid rejection, Soler said. The use of immunosuppressant drugs has achieved very low rates of rejection, from 5 to 10%. So, now Soler believes we should look at other ways to avoid chronic rejection and negative cardiovascular effects as well as to offer better well being for organ recipients.