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Kidney Health Through the Lifespan

If you’re considering a career in renal healthcare or are simply curious about organ functionality, you may have pondered the changes in your kidney health over time. While kidneys would ideally function flawlessly from birth to the golden years, that’s not the case. We experience countless changes as we progress through life, and our renal systems are no exception, undergoing their own evolutionary process. 

In this article, we will explore the fundamental functions of the kidneys and how their health can evolve throughout an individual’s lifetime. 

What Do the Kidneys Do, Exactly? 

Kidney beans earned their name for a reason: They share a resemblance with the two kidneys situated below your rib cage. These fist-sized organs play a crucial role in how your body functions. They’re part of the urinary system, which comprises the bladder, ureters and urethra. 

The kidneys’ primary function is to filter about 150 quarts of blood each day, removing waste and maintaining a healthy balance of water, minerals and salts. The filtered waste transforms into urine, which then travels through the ureter to the bladder, ultimately being expelled from the body. 

Kidney Health From Infancy to Geriatrics 

Below, we break down how your kidneys’ function and overall health alters throughout a person’s lifespan: 


At around 36 weeks in utero, a baby’s kidneys reach structural completion. Despite this, their renal function remains immature, meaning that they’re not yet operating at optimal capacity. Fortunately, in the first few weeks after birth, as the baby adapts to breathing air and feeding, renal function matures rapidly. 


Throughout childhood and adolescence, the kidneys typically operate normally, working 24 hours a day to filter blood and eliminate waste from the body. However, some children are diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal failure. Approximately 10,000 children in the United States fall under this category and depend on dialysis treatments until they can undergo a kidney transplant. 

There are several potential causes of kidney disease in children, including: 

  • Birth defects 
  • Hereditary diseases 
  • Infection  
  • Nephrotic syndrome 
  • Urine blockage 


The most effective method for assessing kidney function is by measuring a person’s Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR). This measurement indicates how well the glomeruli, the small structures in the kidneys responsible for filtering blood, are functioning. 

Most people have their highest (and healthiest) GFR rates around the age of 30, with a number anywhere from 90 to 120. At this point, a person’s GFR usually begins a very gradual decline that will continue dropping for the remainder of their lives. However, a slow decrease in GFR is normal and isn’t usually a cause for concern. 

Older Adults 

Around the age of 60, a person’s risk of CKD increases as their kidney function decreases. John Hopkins University estimates that more than half of seniors over age 75 have kidney disease. Not all people with kidney disease notice symptoms, so it’s important to schedule regular checkups with your doctor and test for kidney disease annually. 

Tips for Maintaining Tip-Top Kidney Health 

Besides consulting your primary care physician for assessments of your kidney and overall organ health, there are daily activities you can include in your routine to maintain optimal kidney health:  

  • Stay hydrated
    One way to help your kidneys is by drinking water throughout the day. Being hydrated can help you flush out toxins more quickly and lubricate your joints. It’s a win-win!
  • Incorporate a diet for kidney health 
    Blood pressure plays a role in your kidney health, so try to limit your sodium intake. In addition, focus on heart-healthy foods that minimize the amount of fat building up in your kidneys, such as lean meats, fish, beans, vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products. 
  • Monitor your blood pressure 
    Incorporate multiple strategies to keep your blood pressure within a healthy range. Consider adding regular exercise to your schedule, limiting alcohol intake and effectively managing your stress levels. These lifestyle adjustments can help support optimal blood pressure levels, as maintaining normal blood pressure is crucial for safeguarding your kidney health. 
  • Avoid excess caffeine 
    We appreciate a hot cup of coffee as much as the next person, but too much caffeine can lead to dehydration, which makes it harder for your kidneys to adequately filter blood. Aim for a maximum of 400 milligrams of caffeine each day, while drinking plenty of water in between caffeinated beverages. 

Gain Insight Into Renal Physiology With an Online Graduate Certificate From UF 

If you’re interested in kidney health across all age groups, there are numerous career paths in renal medicine to explore, including roles such as nephrologist, renal nurse, transplant coordinator or renal pharmacist. 

No matter which career piques your interest, the first step to becoming a medical professional is choosing a graduate program that’ll distinguish you from other med school applicants. That’s where UF comes in. 

Our 12-credit online Graduate Certificate in Cardiovascular/Renal Physiology is ideal for busy working students interested in gaining a wealth of knowledge about advanced renal physiology and pathophysiology. You can complete the coursework at your own pace, earning your graduate certificate in as little as one year or in a timeframe that aligns with your schedule. 

Ready to jumpstart your career in renal medicine? Apply to our graduate certificate program today!