Exercises for Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a circulatory disorder characterized by the accumulation of fatty buildups or plaques in the arteries that constrict blood flow. The constricted blood flow can lead to numbness in the extremities and sores on the legs and feet that heal slowly. PAD--also called atherosclerosis, poor circulation, or hardening of the arteries--increases the risk of serious complications like stroke and heart attack. You can combat PAD with heart-strengthening exercises that increase blood flow and oxygen distribution throughout the body.

  1. Walking for PAD

    • The most basic and effective exercise for PAD is walking. While PAD restricts blood flow to the legs, walking makes the heart stronger and can increase blood flow--reversing or stalling the decline due to PAD. Many people with PAD suffer from claudication, cramps in the legs due to physical exertion. Walking regularly can reduce the amount of pain and increase the amount of physical activity that you can do before you start hurting.
      How far you can walk before experiencing pain is a common measure of how severe the PAD is. Unlike other exercise plans, walking for treatment of PAD involves exercising through pain. Start by trying to walk 6 to 8 minutes without stopping. You may experience significant pain, but unless the pain is too much to bear, try to work though it to the 6 minute mark. Take a break, then try another walk of 6 to 8 minutes. Continue until you have walked for about half an hour. Try to walk at least three times a week. After a week or two, you may notice reduced pain and increased ability to walk for 6 or 8 minutes without significant pain. As the pain goes down, increase the time that you walk before stopping so that you experience a moderate amount of pain. Eventually you should increase total walking time and also attempt to increase your walking speed.


    • Stair-climbing is another basic function of the legs that can cause claudication in those with PAD. Since the leg muscles are engaged more intensely in stair climbing than with walking, the oxygen demands of the muscles are greater, which is likely to bring on claudication more quickly and to be more severe. If your PAD is severe, you may wish to start with walking and avoid stairs. After you can walk 10 minutes without significant pain, add some stair climbing into your exercise routine. Use stairs instead of an elevator anywhere that the choice is available. If you have to go up many floors, walk up as many as you can. When the pain becomes moderate, take the elevator the rest of the way. If you don't climb stairs in the course of a day, walk up and down a stairway in a public place like a library. As with walking, work out until pain becomes more than moderate, and increase the amount of stairs you climb as your legs improve.

    Aerobic exercise

    • If you cannot sustain walking or stair-climbing long enough for an effective workout, try some other form of aerobic exercise. Using an arm ergometer is one way to increase aerobic fitness without using the legs. An arm ergometer is a device similar to a stationary bike, but instead of rotating the pedal with the legs, handles are rotated with the arms. There are even bicycles that use arm power to ride instead of leg power.

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