People with a condition that restricts blood flow to the legs and feet may be able to improve their long-term walking ability by walking for exercise at a pace that feels painful or uncomfortable, new research suggests.
The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found people with peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, who walked at a speed that caused painful symptoms increased their walking speed and leg function more than those who walked for exercise at a more comfortable pace.
“We were surprised by the results because walking for exercise at a pace that induces pain in the legs among people with PAD has been thought to be associated with damage to leg muscles,” senior study author Dr. Mary McDermott said in a news release. She is a professor of medicine and preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
“Exercise that induces leg pain is beneficial, though difficult,” she said. “We now are working to identify interventions that can make the higher intensity exercise easier – and still beneficial – for people with PAD.”
An estimated 8 to 10 million U.S. adults have PAD, a condition characterized by reduced blood and oxygen flow stemming from a narrowing of the arteries that take blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The condition typically affects the legs and feet, causing symptoms during walking such as cramping, weakness, fatigue, aching, and pain or discomfort that fade within 10 minutes after resting.