Many things can keep you from staying active, but peripheral arterial disease (PAD) shouldn't be one of them. It's true that many with PAD experience cramping, weakness, swelling, and even flat-out pain, and that may make you think twice about lacing up your tennies.
However, exercise with PAD isn't only possible; it could be a key part of your treatment program.
It can be easy to feel like PAD counts you out for an active, healthy lifestyle, but our team of vascular surgery experts at Advanced Vascular Solutions knows the opposite is true. In this blog, we walk you through exactly what's going on with PAD so you can make informed choices about your activities.
Before diving into the connection between exercise and PAD (and how to go about it), we need to dive into what PAD is.
PAD is primarily a circulatory problem that stems from narrowed arteries. Your arteries become narrow as plaque buildup accumulates and makes it harder for blood to pass through and deliver oxygen. PAD occurs most often in your lower legs and can cause painful cramping and pain with movement — even simple activities like walking up the stairs or around the block.
Those most at risk for PAD are those who are older, have diabetes, smoke, are obese or overweight, and have other health problems, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
The good news is that PAD and its symptoms are treatable, especially if you catch it early. In the most severe cases, you may need surgery to repair the damage, but many respond to healthy lifestyle choices, such as quitting smoking and losing weight.
It may seem strange to increase your activity levels when taking a few steps is painful. However, since PAD is rooted in circulatory problems, increasing blood flow through exercise may actually improve your symptoms.
Here's how to exercise safely when you have PAD.
Start off on the right foot
Your lower limbs need all the support and help they can get, especially if you're about to increase your demand on them. Supporting your legs starts with a solid pair of shoes.
The shoes you wear during your activities make all the difference. They should have adequate arch support, shock absorption, and a roomy toe box, and above all else, they should fit you properly.
Remember that no pair of shoes is complete without an equally supportive pair of socks. Your sock can add a layer of cushion and protect certain pressure points as you move.
Don't rush it
Whether you were an elite athlete in the past and know your way around a workout, or you can't remember the last time you got your heart rate up, our advice is the same: Start slow; go slow.
Now is not the time to set a personal best or jump into an unfamiliar exercise. Here's what we recommend.
Interval walking is an excellent option for PAD. Find a treadmill or pick your favorite route around your neighborhood. Walk briskly for a few minutes (even if it feels a little painful), then rest for a few minutes. Repeat that cycle several times, starting with a total walking time of approximately 30 minutes and building up to roughly 50 minutes.
If walking is simply too much stress on your body right now, start walking in the pool. The water carries most of your body weight and can take the pressure off your body. If you're ready for a challenge, try walking up a flight of stairs or increasing the incline of your walks.
No matter how you decide to move, make sure you always leave at least 5-10 minutes to stretch and warm up your muscles. Skipping a warm-up leaves you vulnerable to injury.
Listen to your body
Working out when you have PAD does require you to push through some pain and discomfort, but you shouldn't ever go past your limits. Call us at the first sign of intense pain, and we'll help you reevaluate your exercise program.
You're not stuck walking for the rest of your life. In fact, it's better to have a varied workout plan. Choose low-impact activities like yoga, water aerobics, and bicycling. It's also essential to find things you enjoy doing. If you like your workouts, there's a better chance you'll stick with the program.
If you've read this blog, you've already taken an important first step: You want to become a healthier person, and you're ready to put in the work. But you shouldn't go it alone. Contact Advanced Vascular Solutions to get the guidance and support you need. We proudly serve patients in the Melbourne and Sebastian, Florida area.