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

Regular exercise can decrease leg pain that occurs with exercise (called intermittent claudication ) in some people who have peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

Your doctor may want you to try a supervised exercise program. This program may include both walking and weight training exercises. You will work with a therapist at an exercise facility such as a rehab center. Each day you will walk until the pain starts, then rest until it goes away before continuing. Your therapist will 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).

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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Other Works Consulted

  • Hirsch AT, et al. (2006). ACC/AHA 2005 practice guidelines for the management of patients with peripheral arterial disease (lower extremity, renal, mesenteric, and abdominal aortic): A collaborative report from the American Association for Vascular Surgery/Society for Vascular Surgery, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, Society for Vascular Medicine and Biology, Society of Interventional Radiology, and the ACC/AHA Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Develop Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Peripheral Arterial Disease): Endorsed by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Society for Vascular Nursing; TransAtlantic Inter-Society Consensus; and Vascular Disease Foundation. Circulation, 113(11): e463–e654.
  • Watson L, et al. (2008). Exercise for intermittent claudication. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4).


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical Reviewer David A. Szalay, MD - Vascular Surgery

Current as ofFebruary 20, 2015