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Patient Blog by Vascular Cures’ Patient Partner Steve H. on his experience with the benefits of walking for patients with Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

I was first diagnosed with Peripheral Artery Disease about 14 years ago. My first symptom was that I couldn’t walk more than two blocks without getting pain in my lower calf muscles, forcing me to stop and start again. I traveled for work at the time. I experienced the same sensation in my calves when I would pull a carry-on suitcase.

What got me to my general practitioner (GP) was that I started getting pain at rest at night when trying to sleep. He referred me to a Vascular Surgeon, and we did an ankle-brachial test and then an arteriogram. He recommended that I do a bypass with the results back because of the pain at rest. My main question was how long the bypass would last. He told me 3-5 years, which was unacceptable for me, so I went outside my health network to a Vascular Surgeon at a different hospital. The surgeon told me he couldn’t improve my quality of life with the bypass and suggested starting a walking regimen.

I took the surgeon’s advice and started walking through the pain and improving my distance each time. When I first started walking, it was difficult to walk for more than two blocks. Due to the pain, I needed to stop and rest for a couple of minutes.

My initial goal was to walk for at least 30 minutes, but I stopped to rest several times.  Slowly but surely, I increased the length of my walks and, where necessary, rested along the way. 

Even to this day, I still stop three or four times on my walks. On days that I complete my walking routine twice, I find that my second round is much easier. Also, I learned that growing collateral blood vessels is important to improving PAD.

I understand that the pain from walking is necessary to build up collateral circulation. Collateral circulation is when smaller arteries grow over time, improving the blood flow in my legs. When the pain comes back, it is a continual re-enforcement of my practice! 

Through all of this, I have also been a tennis player: first singles and doubles, and as I aged I gravitated to doubles only. I began to realize that if I was going to prevent injury, I had also to integrate a gym/training routine into my regimen. I started that about eight years ago and the regimen includes stretching, balance, and core, and more recently, posture, which I do three times a week for 30 minutes. I also was diagnosed with type two diabetes about 20 years ago, and I had already been making changes to my diet to keep my A1C in check. I also had changed the kinds of foods that I eat that I know can impact my circulation and PAD. For example, I rarely eat red meat, and I try to balance carbs with protein. My wife does a great job of ensuring that I maintain a healthy diet, balance my meals, and control my fat intake.

I am grateful for the things I’ve been able to change in my habits and lifestyle, and that they have also benefitted other areas of my life. Recently I had to have some surgery that required sedation. At my age, there is a lot of concern regarding the after-effects and issues that can occur while oxygenated. As I was going through the surgery prep, one of the things that the pre-op internal medicine doctor told me when she cleared me for surgery was that even though I was a diabetic and had other co-morbidities along with PAD, it was my exercise routine and good physical condition that qualified me for the surgery. Fortunately, it was successful, and I had no issues during and after the surgery.

Steve’s advice for anyone who wants to make a change today: 

  1. Start small and where you’re comfortable: In terms of starting an exercise regimen, I suggest beginning with short distances and then increasing your distance until you can get in 6,000 to 10,000 steps a day. I suggest using some form of an app on the phone to monitor progress. I used a tracker on my phone called “Steps.” I find it very easy to use.
  2. Talk to a dietician or a nutritionist: To make the dietary lifestyle changes needed to support a healthy circulatory system, it may help to talk to a dietician, like I did at first.
  3. Develop a routine that works for you: I suggest finding a way to get into a gym and work with a professional initially to develop some routine, including an elliptical exercise1,2.
  4. Gear up with comfortable footwear, water, and good company: I would recommend that your shoes and socks support your walking routine and that you stay hydrated throughout your walk. Consider listening to music or audio of some type or having a walking buddy, whether it be canine like me with my 10-month-old golden named “Buddy” or human to help motivate you.
  5. Tap into what motivates you: My final motivation is to be able to keep up with my 15-month-old grandson (Tucker), who now also has his own extremely fast walking routine all around and in our house.

Vascular Cures would like to highlight an important message that Steve shared: starting small is key. It can be overwhelming to make major changes to your lifestyle and get out of your comfort zone. Even the smallest changes, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or smoking one less cigarette each day, can make a difference. More importantly, it can make it easier to take the next step, and the one after that.  

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