Your kidneys are fist-sized organs located at the bottom of your rib cage, on both sides of your spine. They perform several functions.

Most importantly, they filter waste products, excess water, and other impurities from your blood. These waste products are stored in your bladder and later expelled through urine.

In addition, your kidneys regulate pH, salt, and potassium levels in your body. They also produce hormones that regulate blood pressure and control the production of red blood cells.

Your kidneys are also responsible for activating a form of vitamin D that helps your body absorb calcium for building bones and regulating muscle function.

Maintaining kidney health is important to your overall health and general well-being. By keeping your kidneys healthy, your body will filter and expel waste properly and produce hormones to help your body function properly.

Here are some tips to help keep your kidneys healthy.

Regular exercise is good for more than just your waistline. It can lower the risk of chronic kidney disease. It can also reduce your blood pressure and boost your heart health, which are both important to preventing kidney damage.

You don’t have to run marathons to reap the reward of exercise. Walking, running, cycling, and even dancing are great for your health. Find an activity that keeps you busy and have fun. It’ll be easier to stick to it and have great results.

People with diabetes, or a condition that causes high blood sugar, may develop kidney damage. When your body’s cells can’t use the glucose (sugar) in your blood, your kidneys are forced to work extra hard to filter your blood. Over years of exertion, this can lead to life-threatening damage.

However, if you can control your blood sugar, you reduce the risk of damage. Also, if the damage is caught early, your doctor can take steps to reduce or prevent additional damage.

High blood pressure can cause kidney damage. If high blood pressure occurs with other health issues like diabetes, heart disease, or high cholesterol, the impact on your body can be significant.

A healthy blood pressure reading is 120/80. Prehypertension is between that point and 139/89. Lifestyle and dietary changes may help lower your blood pressure at this point.

If your blood pressure readings are consistently above 140/90, you may have high blood pressure. You should talk with your doctor about monitoring your blood pressure regularly, making changes to your lifestyle, and possibly taking medication.

People who are overweight or obese are at risk for a number of health conditions that can damage the kidneys. These include diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease.

A healthy diet that’s low in sodium, processed meats, and other kidney-damaging foods may help reduce the risk of kidney damage. Focus on eating fresh ingredients that are naturally low-sodium, such as cauliflower, blueberries, fish, whole grains, and more.

There’s no magic behind the cliché advice to drink eight glasses of water a day, but it’s a good goal precisely because it encourages you to stay hydrated. Regular, consistent water intake is healthy for your kidneys.

Water helps clear sodium and toxins from your kidneys. It also lowers your risk of chronic kidney disease.

Aim for at least 1.5 to 2 liters in a day. Exactly how much water you need depends largely on your health and lifestyle. Factors like climate, exercise, gender, overall health, and whether or not you’re pregnant or breastfeeding are important to consider when planning your daily water intake.

People who have previously had kidney stones should drink a bit more water to help prevent stone deposits in the future.

Smoking damages your body’s blood vessels. This leads to slower blood flow throughout your body and to your kidneys.

Smoking also puts your kidneys at an increased risk for cancer. If you stop smoking, your risk will drop. However, it’ll take many years to return to the risk level of a person who’s never smoked.

If you regularly take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication, you may be causing kidney damage. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen and naproxen, can damage your kidneys if you take them regularly for chronic pain, headaches, or arthritis.

People with no kidney issues who take the medicine occasionally are likely in the clear. However, if you use these medicines daily, you could be risking your kidneys’ health. Talk with your doctor about kidney-safe treatments if you’re coping with pain.

If you’re at high risk of kidney damage or kidney disease, it’s a good idea to have regular kidney function tests. The following people may benefit from regular screening:

  • people who are over 60 years old
  • people who were born at a low birth weight
  • people who have cardiovascular disease or have family with it
  • people who have or have a family history of high blood pressure
  • people who are obese
  • people who believe they may have kidney damage

A regular kidney function test is a great way to know your kidney’s health and to check for possible changes. Getting ahead of any damage can help slow or prevent future damage.

A little more than 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 20 show evidence of kidney disease. Some forms of kidney disease are progressive, meaning the disease gets worse over time. When your kidneys can no longer remove waste from blood, they fail.

Waste buildup in your body can cause serious problems and lead to death. To remedy this, your blood would have to be filtered artificially through dialysis, or you would need a kidney transplant.

Chronic kidney disease

The most common form of kidney disease is chronic kidney disease. A major cause of chronic kidney disease is high blood pressure. Because your kidneys are constantly processing your body's blood, they’re exposed to about 20 percent of your total volume of blood every minute.

High blood pressure is dangerous for your kidneys because it can lead to increased pressure on the glomeruli, the functional units of your kidney. In time, this high pressure compromises the filtering apparatus of your kidneys and their functioning declines.

Eventually, kidney function will deteriorate to the point where they can no longer properly perform their job, and you’ll have to go on dialysis. Dialysis filters fluid and wastes out of your blood, but it isn’t a long-term solution. Eventually, you may need a kidney transplant, but it depends on your particular circumstance.

Diabetes is another major cause of chronic kidney disease. Over time, uncontrolled blood sugar levels will damage the functional units of your kidney, also leading to kidney failure.

Kidney stones

Another common kidney problem is kidney stones. Minerals and other substances in your blood may crystallize in the kidneys, forming solid particles, or stones, that usually pass out of your body in urine.

Passing kidney stones can be extremely painful, but rarely causes significant problems.

Glomerulonephritis

Glomerulonephritis is an inflammation of the glomeruli, microscopic structures inside your kidneys that perform the filtration of blood. Glomerulonephritis can be caused by infections, drugs, congenital abnormalities, and autoimmune diseases.

This condition may get better on its own or require immunosuppressive medications.

Polycystic kidney disease

Individual kidney cysts are fairly common and usually harmless, but polycystic kidney disease is a separate, more serious condition.

Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disorder that causes many cysts, round sacs of fluid, to grow inside and on the surfaces of your kidneys, interfering with kidney function.

Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections are bacterial infections of any of the parts of your urinary system. Infections in the bladder and urethra are most common. They’re generally easily treatable and have few, if any, long-term consequences.

However, if left untreated, these infections can spread to the kidneys and lead to kidney failure.

Your kidneys are vital to your overall health. These organs are responsible for many functions, from processing body waste to making hormones. That’s why taking care of your kidneys should be a top health priority.

Maintaining an active, health-conscious lifestyle is the best thing you can do to make sure your kidneys stay healthy.

If you have a chronic health condition that increases your risk for kidney damage or kidney disease, you should also work closely with your doctor to watch for signs of loss of kidney function.