High intensity interval training with Leicester Kidney Exercise Team

When I was speaking with Alice Smith, head of the the kidney exercise team (LKET), in preparation for my Paris ride, she mentioned that there was a study coming up that I might enjoy taking part in after my transplant, measuring the effects of regular HIIT sessions on heart heath, the immune system, and no doubt other things too subtle for me to grasp.

Fortunately when the time came in December, I was fit enough to start. The programme consists of a heart scan and lots of tests before you start, and a “max” test, to work out the most you can do, then eight weeks of 3 lots of half hour’s cycling, some extra tests dotted here and there, and then another heart scan at the end to see how you’ve done.

The tests

The first thing I did was the morning of tests to get an idea of my baseline fitness. These are the things I did (or had done to me!):

  • Blood test
  • BP test
  • Resting ECG & BP
  • Calf strength test
    (this one particularly pleased me – I’ve got big calves, and if I remember rightly each one could lift 150 kilos on its own, which I believe technically makes me a god)
  • Standing up and sitting down in a seat 5 times, timed to see how long
  • Standing up and sitting down in a seat – how many can I do in 60 seconds (hilariously tiring!)
  • Walking speed test x2  – just normal walking pace past a couple of timing lasers

Then I had to talk over my medical history with a chap (I can’t remember if he was a nurse or a doctor or something else – A MEDICAL BOD anyway). Then on to the test, which involved a special bike on which I had to maintain the same cadence (pedalling speed). It started off easy for a while, and then they smoothly and slowly ramped up the difficulty until I could take no more. In this way they measured what my maximum output was. By the time I gave up, my heart rate was up to 150, which is very high for me as I’m on beta blockers.

Fortunately, because of my background good level of fitness, my heart rate returned to normal quickly, which pleased them.

The heart scan

On another day, I had to go to Glenfield Hospital to meet Dr Matt Graham-Brown, and have another ECG and then an MRI scan lasting approximately an hour, to do a thorough survey of the condition of my heart before the exercise regime started.

The only hard thing about the MRI was not being able to move my arms to itch my nose. At one point I even fell asleep, and they had to shout me awake over the intercom 🙂

I had a long chat with Matt afterwards about the state of my heart, and it all seemed fine, except for some minor scarring which is consistent with advanced kidney disease.

Matt pointed out that my kidney function had gone way above its normal 55ish, and I checked online when I got back, and oddly it had gone up to 72. It went back down to normal in the course of the next few weeks, but one positive consequence of this was that in checking my figures from the initial blood tests in PatientView, I noticed that my iron levels were low. I spoke to my consultant about this and he said that yes I was slightly anaemic, so I asked for iron tablets and they were prescribed. I started to feel better in days – not sleepy any more and way more energy generally – so that’s a big plus already for these tests!

The exercise itself!

Popping down to the Leicester Diabetes Centre in the General three times a week has been easy enough for me, as my work is flexible (thanks Arch!). I was initially given a difficulty of 10 for the hard sections and 8 for the easy ones. The pattern I was assigned is like this:

  1. Warm up
  2. 4 minutes of hard
  3. 3 mins of slightly easier
  4. 4 minutes of hard
  5. 3 mins of slightly easier
  6. 4 minutes of hard
  7. 3 mins of slightly easier
  8. 4 minutes of hard
  9. 5 mins of slightly easier
  10. Warm down

I suspect it’s about as difficult for everyone as the difficulty is calibrated from your output on the max test. Perhaps it’s slightly easier for me than some as I’m using to tiring myself out, both cycling and hillwalking. By the end of the last hard section my heart rate was approx 143bpm.

After 3 weeks

We did an extra raft of tests this weeks, which involved a blood test before and after the exercise, then (if I remember rightly) one an hour after, then one four hours after that. A lot of blood tests, but kidney patients are pretty used to needles!

I’m gradually finding the sessions easier, and with a combination of this exercise and not being anaemic any more I’m finding getting up hills easier when I go walking with my family.

At the peak of this last session, my heart rate was only approx 120bpm, which means my heart has already adapted to the exercise and lost 20+bpm for the same level of exercise as it was doing three weeks ago. That’s far more rapid improvement than I was hoping for!

As you can see from the following image though, I’m still pretty sweaty at the end. Apologies for my massive shiny bonce:

That’s it for now! I’ll pop another post up when the sessions are over. The upshot though is that I’m really enjoying (perhaps not in the moment, but generally!) the chance to push myself a bit and see what I can do, and get fitter in a controlled situation without having to pay a personal trainer millions of pounds to shout at me (Ganesha, Rosey and Dan can do that instead).

I’ve already found that my ability to push myself has increased hugely – I suspect this is a mixture of the lack of anaemia and the HIIT sessions. Yesterday I climbed beacon hill (a small hill, but I was really slow before!) and could actually run up parts of it. I just need to keep up this level of fitness (and more!) now, and hopefully I’ll be functionally immortal.

Woo Hoo!

Click the paging buttons below to see other blog posts