Before starting any exercise program make sure to speak with your doctor. They can assist you with a structured walking program either through a physical therapy program or simply walking on a treadmill, around the mall or grocery store, or in your neighborhood.
Walking exercises the muscles in the calves, thighs, and buttocks. These are large muscle groups that have a high level of oxygen demand. When you are walking, the oxygen demand of those muscles increases. Chemical messengers are sent to the blood vessels to tell the smooth muscle in the lining of the arterial wall to relax, open up, and allow more blood flow. That improves the blood flow to everything below the waist when you are walking. Also, it encourages new connections between the microvessels.
Cardiovascular fitness helps your body deliver blood carrying oxygen and nutrients to your most important organs, including your heart and your brain. Studies show that it can help improve your cognition, memory, mood, and sleep. It can also help alleviate stress, increase energy levels, strengthen your bones, and lose body fat.
Getting Started With a Walking Program
It is a great idea to plan ahead if you are struggling with your walking routine. Keep track of how long you can walk and how far you can get. As you progress you should be able to walk for longer periods of time and greater distances.
Structured Walking Program Example
- Warm up with light stretching of your calf and thigh muscles.
- Start walking at a pace that is fast enough that you may have slight discomfort.
- Stop and rest until that discomfort or pain goes away.
- Repeat this routine several times slowly building up your walking time, about 3 to 5 times a week.
- Cool down. Slowly walk for 5 minutes followed by light stretching of your calf and thigh muscles.
Do You Have Pain or Cramping When You Walk?
Have you noticed that you choose to walk less and park closer to stores because walking causes you discomfort? Do you wake up at night because your legs hurt? Do you use a cane, walker, or scooter to assist you with mobility because your legs feel weak?
You Might Have PAD
What is PAD, you ask? PAD, which stands for peripheral artery disease, is caused by cholesterol and other fatty substances that block the blood vessels going to your lower legs and into the feet. Due to the decreased blood flow to the muscles and other tissues, it is common to experience pain and cramping. It is frequently seen in people over the age of 50, people who have smoked or still do, people living with diabetes, people experiencing diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage which causes numbness, tingling, and pain), or people that have high blood pressure.
Other indicators for PAD include wounds or ulcers on the legs or feet that do not heal in an appropriate amount of time. Also, if the skin is discolored or if the hair is growing at a slower rate, that could indicate that you may be at risk. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you are advised to talk to your primary care physician.
Does Walking Help Peripheral Artery Disease?
If you are experiencing the symptoms of PAD, a structured walking program can help. Weight-bearing exercise works by improving your circulation through the growth of new blood vessels. Those vessels can help ease the pain but it does not happen overnight, just like your PAD did not happen overnight. A walking program is beneficial to all PAD-affected patients but especially to those pre-symptomatic patients and those already treated for PAD through revascularization procedures, like those done at Modern Vascular.
Walking is a simple form of exercise that isn’t too intense. It is great for slowly increasing physical activity because it is easy to start and stop. If you are experiencing pain when you are walking you should try to rest until the pain subsides before you continue to walk. As we had mentioned before, it is good for cardiovascular fitness. Improving cardiovascular fitness can improve the severity of the symptoms. When you are trying to introduce more physical activity into your routine to improve health conditions that you may have you should consult with a doctor to make sure that it is not causing more harm to the parts of the body that are experiencing pain.
Exercise Guidelines For Patients With PAD
The American Heart Association studied the optimal exercise routines for patients that are suffering from peripheral artery disease. Accordingly, they are able to offer recommendations to patients with lower-extremity PAD. These are the PAD exercise guidelines that are available from their study.
- An exercise program with supervision is recommended for patients that have claudication.
- Before possible revascularization, a walking program should be discussed.
- An exercise program and behavioral changes can help improve the ability to walk and functional status in patients that have peripheral artery disease.
- Different exercise strategies like cycling, upper-body ergometry, and low-intensity walking that don’t get to the level of moderate or maximum claudication can be beneficial.
There is evidence that supports exercise as a means to improve the condition of peripheral artery disease that goes all the way back to 1966. There has been a number of clinical trials since then that continue to support that evidence. Most of the studies conducted on PAD walking performance used treadmills, so treadmills can be considered a good tool to use for a PAD walking program.
Please consult with a doctor if you think that you have peripheral artery disease. Do not over-exert yourself if you are experiencing PAD symptoms without first speaking to a doctor. To determine if you may be at risk for peripheral artery disease, you can take the Modern Vascular PAD Risk Assessment Quiz.