Walking can help you improve circulation and decrease pain if you have poor circulation. This type of exercise is particularly helpful if you have peripheral artery disease, sometimes called lower extremity arterial disease. Peripheral artery disease affects the arms and legs, and it can affect the legs more than the arms. Atherosclerosis -- the buildup of plaque in your arteries that narrows the artery interior and decreases blood flow -- causes most cases of poor circulation, according to Better Medicine. Walking can help you prevent atherosclerosis in a number of ways.
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Effects of Poor Circulation
Lower extremity arterial disease affects 2 to 4 percent of Americans age 40 to 60 and 6 percent of those over age 70, according to the University of Southern California Center for Vascular Care. Men develop this disorder more frequently than women. Atherosclerosis decreases blood flow. It leads to poor circulation, causes pain, difficulty walking, ulcers on the legs and numbness or tingling in the extremities. Exercise such as walking can lower your blood pressure, blood glucose levels, decrease cholesterol and help you lose weight -- all steps that help reduce atherosclerosis and improve circulation.
Claudication is the term for the pain that occurs in the legs when you increase physical activity and have poor circulation. Your muscles need an increased amount of oxygen during exercise. A blood flow increase of up to tenfold will meet those needs if you have no circulation issues, the University of Southern California's Center for Vascular Medicine explains. Your muscles won't receive the extra needed oxygen if your arteries can't expand to increase your blood flow -- this causes pain. Walking decreases atherosclerosis and improves oxygen delivery to tissues.
Benefits and Exercise Levels
Walking can increase your endurance and ability to walk without pain if you have claudication. An exercise program can also increase nitric acid production in your blood vessels, which can also improve circulation, the Harvard Health Publication reports. Start with five minutes of warmup before increasing your pace and try to exercise for at least five minutes at a time for a total of 30 minutes to start. Do five minutes of cool-down by walking slowly after your exercise period. Stop and rest when you have moderate pain from claudication. Within three to six months, you should reach your maximum benefit, the Cleveland Clinic states.
Check with your doctor before staring any type of exercise program, including walking. If you have chest pain, shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat or dizziness while walking, seek medical attention immediately. Atherosclerosis that causes pain and poor circulation in the extremities can also cause decreased blood flow to your heart that can lead to heart attack or stroke.