Living with PAD? Start walking to feel better

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition in which plaque builds up in your arteries. The plaque hardens, narrowing your arteries and making it harder for blood to flow through.

Most often, this happens in the arteries to your legs, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Your legs then aren’t getting the blood and oxygen they need. If you’re currently living with PAD, you know that this leads to pain, numbness and aching, especially when walking or climbing stairs — but walking may ironically be the easiest way to get relief.

Walking improves pain for people with PADWalking improves PAD symptoms

PAD treatment can include medications or surgery, but one of the best ways to manage symptoms is to walk. If you’re living with PAD, you may be thinking, “No way. That hurts too much.”

Yet, research has shown that walking may be one of the most effective treatments, and a great way to improve your quality of life. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that walking programs significantly improved people’s ability to walk, helped them increase speed and distance and reduced pain.

How do I do it?

In the JAMA study, the goal was for participants to progress to walking five days a week for a total of 50 minutes each day. They were told to start small and take many breaks while walking. They walked until the leg discomfort reached a four or five on a personal scale of zero to five. At that point, they’d rest until the pain faded, then start walking again.

At home, start by walking around the block, or a few mailboxes down from your house and back. Stop when the pain and discomfort becomes too much. Alternating walking and resting is key, along with perseverance. Don’t give up — just have patience.

If you can, find support. Have another person living with PAD join you, or have your spouse come along. Have a friend or one of your children call you regularly to make sure you’re sticking to the plan. As you build up your endurance, consider joining a mall walking group. This option offers encouragement — and plenty of benches for when your legs need a break.

Structured walking programs

Some areas offer group walking programs that combine exercise with education. In the JAMA study, support and education about PAD improved people’s ability to stick to the program and to manage the disease on their own.

Reid Health offers a three-month walking program for people living with PAD, if you need help getting started.

PAD Prevention

Following a heart-healthy lifestyle is the best way to prevent PAD. This means quitting smoking, eating healthy,and exercising. Smoking is a major risk factor for PAD, and one of the first things you’d be asked to change as part of treatment, according to the NHLBI. Starting an exercise program now, if you’re not already active, can also help lower your risk of getting the disease.

Risk factors for PAD are similar to those for stroke, heart disease and other cardiovascular problems, all of which PAD can cause, notes the NHLBI. Consider getting a vascular screening if you think you may be at high risk. Also, be sure to talk to your doctor right away if you have pain, numbness or weakness in your legs. These are common signs of PAD. Starting lifestyle changes early can help you prevent or manage the disease and keep moving.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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