Chronic kidney disease (CKD) shares many phenotypic similarities with other chronic diseases, including heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, HIV infection and rheumatoid arthritis. The most apparent similarity is premature ageing, involving accelerated vascular disease and muscle wasting. We propose that in addition to a sedentary lifestyle and psychosocial and socioeconomic determinants, four major disease-induced mechanisms underlie premature ageing in CKD: an increase in allostatic load, activation of the 'stress resistance response', activation of age-promoting mechanisms and impairment of anti-ageing pathways. The most effective current interventions to modulate premature ageing-treatment of the underlying disease, optimal nutrition, correction of the internal environment and exercise training-reduce systemic inflammation and oxidative stress and induce muscle anabolism. Deeper mechanistic insight into the phenomena of premature ageing as well as early diagnosis of CKD might improve the application and efficacy of these interventions and provide novel leads to combat muscle wasting and vascular impairment in chronic diseases.