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BMJ Group Medical Reference

If you have peripheral arterial disease, you might find taking regular exercise helpful. It can help you walk further and exercise for longer before you get pain in your calf.

No one knows exactly why exercise helps. It probably improves the blood supply to your legs and helps the muscles of your legs to work more efficiently. This means that it takes longer before your legs start hurting. [17]

Lots of research has shown that exercise can help people with peripheral arterial disease to go further before their legs start to hurt. People have done different types of exercise in the studies, including walking outside or on a treadmill, and using an arm-crank machine.

We found several large summaries of research ( systematic reviews) that looked at how exercise could help people with peripheral arterial disease. [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] In most studies, people also took antiplatelet medicines to prevent their blood from forming harmful blood clots.

  • In one study, people exercised three times a week for 24 weeks. Each exercise session lasted for 45 minutes to 60 minutes.

  • It doesn't seem to matter what exercise you do. It can involve either your upper body or lower body. One study found that people who used an arm-crank machine for 12 weeks were able to walk further without pain than those who did no exercise. [25] It might be that any exercise helps your heart work better, which then helps you walk further.

  • In one study, some people took part in a programme in which they were given advice and help to stop smoking, as well as taking exercise. About 23 in 100 people who did both of those things could walk further 12 months later. Out of those people who didn't take part in the programme, only 15 in 100 could walk further a year later.

Several studies have also looked at how doing exercise compares with having an angioplasty (an operation to make your narrowed arteries wider). Researchers found that exercise and angioplasty both worked well in helping people walk farther and feel better. But some studies found that having an angioplasty and doing exercise helped people even more than just doing one or the other. [26] [27] [28]

As long as you exercise sensibly and don't overdo it, you shouldn't come to any harm. Your doctor, nurse, or physiotherapist can advise you on what exercise is best for you.


systematic reviews

A systematic review is a thorough look through published research on a particular topic. Only studies that have been carried out to a high standard are included. A systematic review may or may not include a meta-analysis, which is when the results from individual studies are put together.

For more terms related to Peripheral arterial disease


For references related to Peripheral arterial disease click here.
Last Updated: September 26, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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