Blood cannot efficiently pass through arteries that have become clogged with plaque. The result can be pain in areas like the chest and legs. This pain can make walking uncomfortable, but walking is an exercise that can help improve the health of your arteries. Before you begin any new exercise routine, consult your doctor, especially if you have an existing medical condition.
A study performed at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine showed that treadmill walking in addition to strengthening exercises can help improve quality of life in people with peripheral artery disease. Results suggested that blood flow in the leg arteries increases. New arteries may form in patient’s legs, further increasing the blood flow and the amount of oxygen carried throughout the body. You should walk at least three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes, working up to 40 minutes, if possible.
Mild exercise is not enough to clear your arteries of plaque. You should regularly exercise at a pace that causes your heart rate to increase. This level of activity causes arteries and blood vessels to strengthen, get longer and work better together in order to increase blood flow into and out of your heart and around your body. Regular intense exercise can also provide you with stronger muscles, weight loss, and a general sense of well-being.
If you find that you have leg pain after walking, you may have peripheral arterial disease. If you experience leg pain each time you walk about the same distance, contact your physician. This type of pain usually goes away after a few minutes of rest, but it could be a sign of a serious vascular problem. People who smoke or have diabetes are at the highest risk of peripheral artery disease.
Though walking helps improve arterial disease and improves the overall health of your arteries, contact your health care provider if you experience severe leg or foot pain after walking. You may require further testing and treatment in addition to exercise. If you smoke, have high blood pressure or are diabetic, you are at higher risk for severe arterial disease. Your doctor can determine whether ultrasound testing is needed to find the exact location of your blockage. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary.
- Harvard Health Publications: Do-It-Yourself Cardiac Bypass Surgery: All You Need is Walking Shoes
- Northwestern University: Exercise Improves Walking in Peripheral Artery Disease Patients
- New York University Langone Medical Center: Vascular Disease
- University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine: Leg Pain and Peripheral Arterial Disease
Susan Presley has worked in health care journalism since 2007, and has been published in the American Journal of Nursing and other academic periodicals. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Truman State University and a Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.