Sure, March is all things spring break, March Madness, St. Patrick’s Day, and, this year, Easter. But there’s another thing to commemorate in March: Kidney Month.

Why do we need a month for talking all things kidneys? After all, our kidneys are fairly small organs in our bodies. But their role in our overall health is huge. We’re usually born with two kidneys, small bean-shaped organs that sit in our lower back, just below the rib cage.1 Each of your kidneys is about the size of your fist.

When you think of your kidneys, you likely think first of the connection to the function of your bladder, that your kidneys help remove extra water from your system and send it to the bladder. That is one of the jobs of the kidneys, but there is a step before that that controls much of your health. Your kidneys are your primary system for blood filtration, every minute filtering half a cup of blood. Your kidneys help remove waste from the body, including several forms of drugs. Because of this filtering system and its importance, your kidneys help control everything from your blood pressure to your red blood cell production. Your kidneys also help your electrolyte balance and bone health by producing vitamin D, keeping all those systems running at optimum.2

When the kidneys are less than healthy, a number of symptoms show up. High blood pressure, frequent urination, itchy skin, and puffiness can be signals that your kidneys are struggling.3 When these symptoms are left untreated, kidney disease can take hold, and kidney failure becomes a threat. Kidney failure is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States.4

There are congenital conditions that lead to kidney failure. However, there are also many lifestyle changes that can help keep kidney disease at bay and keep the kidneys healthy. Check out these simple things you can do:

Hydrate: Because of the filtration your kidneys provide to vital systems in your body, keeping hydration levels up helps them do their job. Being adequately hydrated also helps you avoid the formation of kidney stones, one of the painful side effects of stressed kidneys. When you see the reminder to stay hydrated, remember this: water. Many beverages we drink throughout the day have a diuretic effect, which stresses the kidneys. Plain water is the hydration that serves our kidneys best, which in turn allows our kidneys to serve us best. Check out this Altrua HealthShare article on the best practices for staying hydrated.

Regular Exercise: Yep, we hear so much about hydration and exercise when it comes to our overall health that we might be tempted to just scroll on by. But take a minute to see why your kidneys and exercise need each other. Zone 2 exercise, the equivalent of a brisk walk in which you can still talk but you’re working at 65-75% of your maximum heart rate,5 is a great way to exercise for your kidney health. It keeps you out of the kind of exercise that raises your cortisol while allowing your body to burn fat and glucose. When you are at a healthy weight, and you’re keeping your cardiovascular health in tip-top shape, your kidneys don’t have to work as hard. It allows your kidneys to work more efficiently, which benefits your overall health.

Deal with Your Stress. For Real: Stress isn’t just a mental state or emotional experience. Stress affects us at every level, including our physical bodies. When you are stressed at work or home, your cortisol levels rise. Your blood pressure goes up. And if you deal with stress by loading up on caffeine, sugar, processed foods, or alcohol, you’re upping the ante yet again for what your body has to deal with, in addition to giving your kidneys more toxins to process. If you’re an Altrua HealthShare Member on certain memberships, you can access LifeWorks, a counseling and coaching service that can help you discover ways to manage your stress better. Also, take a look at these ideas to get your stress under control.

Know Your Numbers: Many inexpensive blood glucose/blood sugar monitoring devices are available today to help you understand your levels. Why is this important? If your insulin levels are high, as indicated by a monitoring device, it’s an important snapshot of your overall kidney health. High numbers can indicate that your kidneys are under too much stress, which puts you at risk for diabetes. Pre-diabetes and diabetes have a significant impact on your overall kidney health. When you know your numbers, you can make essential changes to your diet to help bring your numbers back to healthy levels.

Get That Check-Up: If you’re an Altrua HealthShare Member on certain memberships, wellness visits are built into your membership. When visiting with your provider, ask them about how they are monitoring your kidney health, and be sure to mention any concerns or symptoms you may have experienced. (If you’re not already an Altrua HealthShare Member or would like to review what features your Altrua HealthShare membership has, contact a Member Services Representative at 1.855.849.9363).

Make this year’s Kidney Month count by giving your kidneys a little extra love and care. After all, they give you a lot of love and care all year long! You can learn more about Kidney Month, kidney donation, the latest kidney research, and more at