Walking Makes It Better

Support group, home exercise improves mobility for PAD patients




A home-based exercise program helped people with clogged leg arteries walk farther and faster, according to research in the Journal of the American Heart Association. The program was beneficial even 12 months after participants started the program.

Previous studies have shown that supervised exercise can improve walking and lessen the symptoms of peripheral artery disease (PAD), but this is the first to document the long-term benefits of a home-based walking program.

"The problem with supervised exercise is that it takes many visits to a cardiac rehabilitation center or other exercise facility, and it is not covered by Medicare," said Mary McGrae McDermott, M.D., lead author and the Jeremiah Stamler professor of medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "Our results should encourage physicians to recommend walking even if their patients do not have access to a supervised-exercise program."

The study compared walking ability in patients and a control group a year after the end of a six-month program that encouraged home-based walking. For the first six months, 81 patients participated in weekly meetings to provide support and skills training to help them adhere to the home exercise program. They also received phone calls to encourage continued walking during months 7-12.

Eighty-seven controls participated for a year in weekly educational meetings and received phone contact on topics unrelated to PAD such as managing hypertension, cancer screening and vaccinations.

At 12 months, participants in the home-based program had increased the distance they could walk in six minutes from 355.4 to 381.9 meters, an improvement of about 87 feet. In contrast, the distance covered by the control group fell slightly, from 353.1 to 345.6 meters.

According to McDermott, walking exercise is the most effective non-invasive treatment for PAD, but a program must take into account that walking may cause a cramp-like pain in leg muscles that don’t get sufficient oxygen. By alternating walking and rest, patients can build up the amount of time they can walk before pain occurs.

In the home program, patients were instructed to try to walk at least five days a week, building up to 50 minutes per exercise session. When leg pain occurred, they were to stop and rest until legs were comfortable again and then resume walking.

"The results emphasize the importance of recognizing and treating PAD, a common condition that often remains undiagnosed and can become life-threatening as it restricts circulation to the legs, arms, feet and kidneys," McDermott said. "Patients with PAD are also at heightened risk for heart attack and stroke.

"Don’t think walking problems are a normal part of aging. If you have leg pain, weakness, tingling or other difficulty walking, report it to your doctor and ask about the possibility you may have PAD. Diagnosing PAD is important because therapies can improve your health."

Edit ModuleShow Tags

AD. American Heart Association Check Change Control Cholesterol logo. Take Action. Live Healthy! Download your free cholesterol guide today. button: heart.org/cholesterol. National supporter: Sanofi Regeneron.


 

AD: American Heart Association logo. Symptoms. Always feeling tired isn't normal. Learn the signs of Heart Valve Disease.


 

AD. American Heart Association logo. Know your blood pressure numbers. And what they mean. Gain Control. button: learn more.


 

AD. Heart Insight. Get the app for free.


 

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Special Topic Supplements

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Departments

Heart News

Heart health news you can use about new scientific findings, public policy, programs and resources.

Heartfelt

Articles, poems and art submitted by heart disease survivors and their loved ones.

Life's Simple 7

Improving your health is as easy as minding seven simple health factors and behaviors. Tips and information to help you improve your health and enhance your quality of life.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These heart patients, their loved ones and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.