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Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)&Exercise

What is peripheral arterial disease (PAD)?

PAD is the narrowing or blockage of the arteries of the circulatory system. PAD occurs in the vessels that carry blood to the arms and legs.

What is Claudication?

Claudication is a symptom of PAD. It is often described as a painful cramping of the leg muscles that occurs when walking. The pain is often noticed in the calf, but may also be felt in the buttocks or thighs. When at rest, the muscles require less blood flow, so the pain typically goes away.

What are the benefits of a walking program?

A regular walking program is important and will help you:

  • Increase the length of time you are able to walk before needing to rest.
  • Reduce your leg pain.
  • Improve or maintain muscle tone.
  • Lose weight or maintain your weight, especially when combined with dietary changes.
  • Reduce your risk factors for a heart attack or stroke.
  • Improve your overall sense of well-being and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Improve your quality of life.
Claudication Scale

Walking Guidelines

  • Always talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
  • Warm-up for 5 minutes before exercising by walking at a slower pace, just below the speed of walking that causes leg pain.
  • If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations or irregular heartbeats, and/or dizziness, stop exercising and call your physician immediately.
  • Walk as long as you can with the pain to maximize results.
  • Cool down after exercise by walking slowly for 5 minutes. You may still have some leg pain during the cool down, but it should be less than what you felt with the exercise.

Within a month, you should notice improvements in the amount of time or the distance you are able to walk before experiencing leg pain. In 3 to 6 months, you should notice maximum improvement in your symptoms.

Your regular walking program will help improve not only your symptoms, but also your overall cardiovascular health.

Walking Program Recommendations

Walking program

FREQUENCY: You should walk 3 to 5 times per week.

INTENSITY: Intensity means how hard you are exercising. You should walk as much as you can even though you experience leg pain when walking. You can measure the intensity of your walking according to your leg discomfort. You should continue walking to a level of 3 to 4 on the scale to the right. Remember, your symptoms will gradually improve over time.

TYPE: A walking program is most beneficial for people with PAD. However, you will also receive cardiovascular benefits (such as reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and assist with current diabetes control) from any large muscle repetitive exercise such as cycling, rowing or swimming.

DURATION: You should walk for a total of 30 minutes and progress to 60 minutes. Walk as long as you can until you reach a level of 4 on the claudication scale (see box below). When you experience pain that reaches level 3 or 4, stop and rest until the pain subsides, then continue walking. Ideally, your exercise intervals should be at least 5 minutes long. You may need to walk at a slower pace to reach at least 5 minutes of walking without stopping to rest.

Walking Tips

Here are some additional walking tips to help you fit your walking program into your busy schedule:

  1. Take a “walk break” instead of a “coffee break.” Get up every hour and take a 5-minute walk.
  2. Don’t try to get the closest parking spot; park further away and add more steps to your day. If it’s feasible, walk instead of driving to your destination.
  3. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  4. Walk on your lunch break.
  5. Take a daily walk with your spouse, child, friend – or even your dog!
Reviewed: 12/10

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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

© Copyright 2014 Cleveland Clinic. All rights reserved.

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