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Exercising With Peripheral Arterial Disease: What You Should Know

For many individuals with peripheral arterial disease, drug therapy and a balloon angioplasty procedure is a typical medical response. While both of these approaches can be effective in managing symptoms and controlling the progression of plaque buildup, neither actually reverses the symptoms or addresses the underlying health issues that may be contributing to the patient’s peripheral arterial disease.

At Advanced Heart and Vascular Institute (serving Phoenix, Tempe, and Globe, AZ), cardiologists encourage patients to take control of their own symptoms by implementing a PAD walking program.

PAD & Exercise: What the Research Reveals

Numerous studies, such as this one, have proven time and again that controlled walking exercise programs can help improve the distance patients are able to walk before experiencing intermittent claudication (pain and cramping in the legs caused by exercise). Patients who walk regularly are able to walk a greater distance before having pain, and are then able to keep going further until forced to stop by intermittent claudication.

Fight Intermittent Claudication By Walking!

If you have peripheral arterial disease (and/or intermittent claudication), you should speak with your physician before beginning a walking program. Generally, a walking program should have these attributes:

  • Walk 3-5 times per week. Don’t go more than two days without walking.
  • Aim for 35 minutes of walking (including “cool down” walking – see Step 5 below).
  • Gradually work your way up to 50 minute-long walking sessions.

The 6 Steps of a PAD Walking Program

These six steps will help you make the most of your peripheral arterial disease walking program:

  1. Warm Up. Walk slowly for a couple minutes to warm up your muscles. Then, do some basic stretches to loosen the muscles. Hamstring stretches and calf stretches are especially useful in the warm-up phase.
  2. Walk at a pace that produces mild to moderate pain in three to five minutes. You may identify this pain as a cramp or general tightness.
  3. When this pain occurs, stop and rest until it goes away.
  4. Once the pain is gone, start walking again until the pain comes back, then stop and rest again. Repeat these steps three to four times. (It might seem counterintuitive to exercise up to the point of pain. However, feeling mild to moderate pain is absolutely essential in order for a PAD walking program to be effective.) Aim for 35 minutes of walking time; this does not include rest time. Work your way up to 50 minutes.
  5. Once you’re a few minutes shy of your goal time, start walking slowly. This “cool down” time applies toward your daily goal. You can also stretch your muscles at the end.
  6. Once you’ve built up to 50 minutes a day, it’s important to stay with the program! Remember, walk at least three to five times per week. At this point, you can also start adding more challenges to your walk, such as hills, stairs, and a quickened pace.

Walking Tips for People With PAD

Many patients have found the following tips to help them commit to the program and get the best results:

  • Get a good pair of walking shoes and a few pairs of athletic socks.
  • Always check for sores, cuts, and blisters on your feet – especially important for diabetic patients and patients with PAD.
  • Make your walk purpose-driven. Go with a friend, listen to a book on tape, visit different parks, or use the time to commit a favorite text to memory.
  • Use a watch or stopwatch to keep track of time spent walking.
  • Use a calendar or other tool to log your time and distance.
  • Tell your friends and family about your walking program, and ask them to hold you accountable.

Learn More About Exercise & Your PAD

For patients with severe symptoms who do not exercise regularly, it’s important to get physician input before beginning an exercise program. The cardiologists at Advanced Heart and Vascular Institute can provide you with the information and supervision you need in order to begin an exercise program that’s effective in managing your peripheral arterial disease.


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