For those with poor leg circulation, walking just one block can be a very daunting task. Poor leg circulation is caused by peripheral artery disease, a condition in which the arteries in your legs become narrowed or even blocked from fatty plaque buildup. When this occurs, the flow of blood to your legs is reduced and the muscles become deprived of oxygen. Although it seems as if exercise would be deleterious for poor leg circulation, evidence shows that the opposite is actually true. Exercise, in particular walking, has been shown to improve blood flow and symptoms in those with poor leg circulation.
Individuals with poor circulation may benefit from an exercise program that includes both walking and resistance training, according to a 2009 study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association.” The study followed 156 participants with peripheral artery disease, both with and without leg pain while walking. The participants were divided into three groups – a walking, lower extremity resistance training and control group. The treadmill walking cohort walked three to five times a week for 15 to 40 minutes over the course of 24 weeks. After completion of the study, these individuals were able to walk an average of 35.9 meters farther than at baseline. The individuals in the resistance training cohort performed strength training exercises for 24 weeks including leg extensions, hamstring curls, leg press and squats. At the end of the study, their walk time was improved by two minutes as well as their ability to climb stairs. Walking distance however, did not show improvement in this group.
Walking is often very difficult for peripheral artery disease, or PAD, sufferers because it triggers pain, cramping and fatigue in the legs, most frequently the calves. According to the Vascular Disease Foundation, individuals with leg pain caused by PAD are able to walk half the distance of healthy individuals. In fact, many are able to walk only one block at a time due to pain. The reason for this is that exercise increases your body's need for oxygen. When the leg muscles are starved of oxygen, they become painful or cramped, much like a person having a heart attack experiences chest pain.
Walking is the preferred form of exercise for PAD because it promotes the formation of new blood vessels in the legs, which in turn improves blood flow, leg pain and exercise tolerance. The Cleveland Clinic recommends walking three to five times a week for 30 minutes and then to gradually increase the duration up to 60 minutes. You should continue walking even if you experience leg pain; however it is advisable to stop exercising if the pain becomes severe.
Leg extensions target the quadriceps muscles, which are located on the front of your upper leg. For this exercise, you will need ankle weights, which can be purchased at your local sporting goods store. To do this exercise, wrap the weights around your ankles. Sit down on a chair or table. Slowly bring your right foot up until your knee is fully straightened. Pause for a second and then lower your foot back down to the ground. Do three sets of 10 repetitions on each leg.
This exercise focuses on the hamstring muscles, which are found on the back of your upper leg. To start this exercise, wrap the weights around your ankles and stand next to a table or chair for balance. Bend you right knee and slowly bring your heel up towards your buttocks. Pause for a second and then lower your foot back down to the ground. Do three sets of 10 repetitions on each leg.
- MedlinePlus: Peripheral Artery Disease
- “Journal of the American Medical Association”; Treadmill Exercise and Resistance Training in Patients with Peripheral Arterial Disease with and Without Intermittent Claudication: A Randomized Control Trial; Mary M. McDermott, et al.; January 2009
- Vascular Disease Foundation: Exercise Therapy
- Cleveland Clinic: Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) and Exercise
- “American Family Physician”; Management of...; Dr. Daniela C. Gey, et al.; February 2004