PAD or Peripheral Artery Disease affects 1 in 20 Americans and is a common circulatory problem. It occurs when severely narrowed arteries cause a reduction in blood flow to the limbs – Usually the legs. This, in turn, causes symptoms like leg pain, muscle pain or muscle cramping where the severity can vary from a mild ache through to debilitating discomfort.
In worst cases, it causes pathological changes, ulcers, and tissue death and can even lead to amputation. So given that PAD is primarily a limb problem, you may be surprised to know that the best exercise for those suffering from PAD is walking!
Walking helps to strengthen leg muscles but in addition, it conditions leg muscles to function with less oxygen. This, in turn, helps your leg muscles to operate even with reduced blood flow. Therefore when you have PAD, a low impact activity such as walking can be extremely beneficial.
Breaking the cycle of PAD
It’s understandable that when you have PAD, it can be painful to walk and therefore you walk less. The issue with this action is that it makes the muscles weaker. The weaker the muscles, the harder and more painful it is to walk. A good walking program can help you to break this cycle and over time will allow you to walk further without feeling discomfort or pain.
Tackling your PAD – Getting started
Any local hospital, cardiac rehab or vascular center should have a specialized walking program for those suffering from peripheral artery disease. If so, attending this program is likely to be your best option. However, if you don’t have access to such a program or it isn’t covered by your insurance then you can still achieve it by walking on your own.
The aim of a walking program is to allow you to walk further without feeling discomfort while allowing you to do more and stay active. A gentle walking program also allows you to reduce blood sugar and blood pressure levels at little to no risk and at little to no cost! Here are some steps you might want to follow:
Step 1 – Start walking at a comfortable pace that allows you to move continually for 5-10 minutes. Even though you may feel some discomfort (claudication) you should walk through it, until the pain becomes too uncomfortable and you need to stop.
Step 2 – Stop and rest just long enough for any discomfort to subside. This is usually around 2-3 minutes. It’s okay to rest either standing or sitting, depending on where you are.
Step 3 – Repeat the process by walking for another 5-10 minutes until any discomfort becomes too much. Then rest again.
Step 4 – Build up the process day by day until such time as you can walk for 45 minutes in one session. This should be around 60-80 minutes including resting time.
Step 5 – Rinse and repeat daily 5 times a week at a brisk intensity until claudication becomes less and less frequent.
Walking for PAD – Hints and tips
Walk where you feel comfortable – A good walking plan is usually done on a treadmill although it can also be carried out on a running track or even a short trail. Just be careful that you don’t run the risk of walking too far and realizing that you can’t get back.
Avoid hills -The aim at first is to be able to walk sufficiently without pain. Therefore gentle low impact exercise is the way to go – preferably on the flat. You are not looking to achieve a full cardio workout so avoid any hills when starting out.
Adopt the right footwear – Wear comfortable fitting sports shoes with a supportive upper and soft cushioning soles. The shoe should feel comfortable without feeling loose but you should also have room to comfortably wiggle your toes.
Make your walking fun – Whether you walk with a friend, listen to music or simply walk in your favorite destination like a park or trail, make it fun! Remember, this isn’t supposed to be a chore, so do whatever you need to do to make it enjoyable.
So there you have it… why walking helps peripheral artery disease and how to go about it!
It’s good to know that in conjunction with a recognized walking plan, there are things that can also be done to treat the condition. Here at the Midwest Institute for Non-Surgical Therapy (MINT) for example, we use specialized non-surgical and out-patient procedures for PAD treatment and other vascular problems. So why not give us a call?
Dr. Akinwande is an experienced and highly skilled physician who is trained in the very latest image-guided endovascular procedures including stent angioplasty for treating peripheral artery disease. Together we work to provide the medical care you truly deserve. Call MINT today to book a consultation on 314 255 2204 or contact us via our online scheduling to talk about your options.