Get Moving to Improve Peripheral Arterial Disease

Healthnotes Newswire (February 9, 2006)—The rate of physical-functioning loss in people with peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is slowed by regular exercise, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine (2006;144:10–20).

PAD is a form of cardiovascular disease that affects the arteries most distant from the heart—those of the lower legs. These vessels become increasingly narrowed due to the build up of plaque, which restricts blood flow to the lower limbs. Most people with PAD experience fatigue and difficulty exercising, and some experience periodic episodes of intense leg pain, known as intermittent claudication. This pain usually comes on with activity and is relieved by resting. Despite the fact that exercise is difficult for people with PAD, treadmill walking is known to help prevent progressive loss of ability to function.

The 417 people with PAD who participated in the current study were 55 years old or older. They were classified by their regular walking habits and ability to perform functional tasks at the beginning of the study and annually for three years. A questionnaire was used to determine the amount of walking, and measurements from a series of physical tasks (distance walked in six minutes, time needed to walk 4 meters at a one’s usual pace and at one’s fastest pace, time needed to rise from sitting five times consecutively, and ability to maintain balance while holding three different postures for ten seconds) were used to evaluate ability to function.

After three years, people who walked regularly one to two times per week had a slower rate of decline in their ability to perform these physical tasks than those who did not walk, and people who exercised three or more times per week declined less than those who walked one to two times per week. Another data analysis found that people who walked 90 minutes or more each week had less functional decline than those who walked less than 90 minutes each week, and those who did not walk at all declined more than both groups of walkers.

The results of this study suggest that regular walking for exercise can slow the loss of physical-functioning ability in people with PAD. Although previous studies have found that supervised walking on a treadmill benefits people with PAD, this is the first study to show that unsupervised walking is helpful. Walking is safe and inexpensive, and an at-home program may be easier to stick to than a supervised program that requires planning and, often, driving. Based on these findings, healthcare providers should strongly encourage people with PAD to walk for exercise regularly.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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