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Sep 27, 2011

Walking Toward a Better Quality of Life

Walking improves quality of life in patients with diabetes and peripheral artery disease.

Diabetes and peripheral artery disease are two chronic conditions that can limit an individual’s physical activity — negatively affecting quality of life. Peripheral artery disease occurs when narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs, often due to the build up of plaque, known as atherosclerosis. Diabetes, on the other hand, occurs when the body is unable to control blood sugar, causing high levels of sugar in the blood. Both conditions often result in fatigue, which can discourage patients from engaging in regular physical activity. However, research has shown that increasing levels of physical activity in patients with peripheral artery disease and diabetes can actually offset this cycle, improving one’s ability to exercise.

A recent study published by the American Diabetes Association explored this relationship, after following nearly 150 adults with diabetes and peripheral artery disease for a total of 6 months. Half of study participants were assigned to a home-based walking program, encouraging routine walking as a form of exercise. Researchers found that among those increasing their physical activity, walking speed increased and quality of life improved significantly in comparison with those not engaged in the walking program.

Results of this study add to a growing body of research suggesting that increasing physical activity may help improve quality of life and the ability to exercise in patients with chronic conditions. Ironically, although symptoms of these conditions often discourage patients from engaging in regular physical activity, increasing physical activity levels through exercise may actually help relieve symptoms and improve the mental state of patients. Therefore, patients should ask their doctors about programs such as walking therapy as part of treatment for chronic conditions. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • How do I know if I have peripheral artery disease (PAD)?

  • The most common symptoms for PAD include painful cramps in the hips and legs when walking, exercising or climbing the stairs, which goes away after stopping. Those with severe PAD may have foot or toe wounds that take a long time to heal and may experience leg pain that does not go away after physical activity. The good news is that PAD is easily diagnosed and doesn’t require any tests or needles, just a quick examination to check for weak pulses in the legs.
  • Why does exercise help conditions such as diabetes and peripheral artery disease?

  • Despite symptoms of fatigue and pain, exercising can help condition muscles to use oxygen more efficiently. As patients exercise regularly, their stamina will often increase and symptoms may become lessened over time, improving quality of life.

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