Peripheral Arterial Disease and Exercise

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Topic Overview

Exercise is heart-healthy

Being active is part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. It can also help you keep peripheral arterial disease (PAD) from getting worse. Regular exercise can help you manage high blood pressure and cholesterol, which can help control PAD and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. If you have any symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness during exercise, report these symptoms to your doctor before continuing your exercise program.

Exercise helps relieve intermittent claudication

Specialized exercise programs may help relieve leg pain that occurs with exercise (called intermittent claudication) in some people who have peripheral arterial disease (PAD). If you have difficulty walking because of your symptoms, these programs may also help you walk more easily.footnote 1

Your doctor may recommend a supervised exercise program. You will work with a therapist at an exercise facility such as a rehab center. In an exercise session, you will walk until the pain starts, then rest until it goes away before continuing. Your therapist may ask you to try to walk just a little farther each day before resting. Don't try to walk through the pain. The goal is to increase the amount of time you can exercise before the pain starts.

You may start a similar walking program at home (with your doctor's approval). This type of program is not supervised. You get instructions and guidance from a healthcare professional. This program may be called a structured home-based exercise program.

Exercise helps prevent PAD

If you do not have PAD, regular exercise can reduce your risk of getting it. Exercise can help you:

  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Improve cholesterol levels.
  • Regulate blood sugar (important for people who have diabetes).
  • Lose weight.

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References

Citations

  1. Gerhard-Herman MD, et al. (2016). 2016 AHA/ACC guideline on the management of patients with lower extremity peripheral artery disease. Circulation, published online November 13, 2016. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000471. Accessed November 25, 2016.

Other Works Consulted

  • Conte MS, et al. (2015). Society for Vascular Surgery practice guidelines for atherosclerotic occlusive disease of the lower extremities: Management of asymptomatic disease and claudication. Journal of Vascular Surgery, 61(3S): 2S-41S. DOI: 10.1016/j.jvs.2014.12.009. Accessed November 25, 2016.
  • Gerhard-Herman MD, et al. (2016). 2016 AHA/ACC guideline on the management of patients with lower extremity peripheral artery disease. Circulation, published online November 13, 2016. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000471. Accessed November 25, 2016.
  • Watson L, et al. (2008). Exercise for intermittent claudication. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4).

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine

Current as ofOctober 5, 2017