Finding it hard to walk? Try walking

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - People with a painful condition known as peripheral artery disease can improve their walking endurance by spending time on a treadmill, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

People with PAD often experience crippling pain and cramps when they do even mild exercise. To avoid pain, they often do not exercise, but that may actually be making things worse.

Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago wanted to see if walking supervised by a personal trainer could help patients with the condition, which affects 8 million people in the United States.

“This is an important new finding for patients with PAD,” Dr. Mary McDermott of Northwestern, whose study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said in a statement. “People said it was much easier for them to walk.”

Exercise can worsen the pain of artery disease because it increases the demand for blood flow to the muscles. If a blockage cuts blood flow, muscles do not get enough blood, causing pain known as “intermittent claudication” that comes and goes.

Studies have found that people with this classic symptom benefited from exercise, but many peripheral artery disease patients do not have the pain and it has not been clear whether they would benefit from exercise.

McDermott and colleagues studied 156 patients divided into three groups: a supervised treadmill group that eventually walked 40 minutes three times a week, a group that did leg strengthening exercises three times a week and a control group that did neither.

After six months, people in the walking group were able to walk an extra 69 feet in a six-minute treadmill test compared with when they started. They also showed improvements in cardiovascular health, as measured by blood flow through an artery in the arm.

People who did not exercise declined, decreasing the distance they could walk on the a treadmill by 49 steps.

People in the leg exercise group also benefited, saying they could climb stairs better and showing better walking performance.

“We found that leg strengthening does have some benefit. It improves quality of life,” McDermott said in a telephone interview.

McDermott said the findings suggest doctors should encourage patients with peripheral artery disease to exercise regularly, preferably with a personal coach standing by to cheer them on.

“It’s particularly hard to motivate them to exercise because they get symptoms in their legs with walking,” she said. “Having a trainer stand there and say keep going, ‘I know you can do it,’ is really key,”

But even with no trainer, she thinks walking could help.

“Based on what I know I would say some exercise is better than no exercise,” she said.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and David Wiessler)

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