Can you recommend exercises for me as a sufferer of atherosclerosis, which causes me claudication when I walk?
By the time most people discover they have “atherosclerosis”, the damage to their blood vessels is already quite serious. The arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood around the body lose their natural springiness and also become thickened and damaged from a build-up of fatty deposits on the inside. Blood has less room to flow, and may struggle to carry enough oxygen through the smaller arteries to fuel working muscles.
It takes years for the arteries to thicken and harden as a result of factors such as genetics, poor diet (too much fatty food), smoking and lack of exercise. Most of us remain unaware of these creeping unhealthy changes until the damage causes something dramatic: angina pain, a mini-stroke or even a heart attack.
As yet we have no way of reversing atherosclerosis damage, so once you know you have the problem, your main aim should be to prevent any further deterioration, through good diet, medications if prescribed, and exercise.
In your case the damage is causing problems when you walk. “Claudication” produces an intense leg pain whenever the muscles need more oxygen than the arteries can deliver. Smokers and diabetics are more at risk of developing claudication (also called “peripheral vascular disease”).
In other instances it could be the arteries to the brain or heart that malfunction. And because atherosclerosis is so often linked to heart disease, you should always get clearance from your GP before starting an exercise programme.
Having said that, carefully controlled exercise can be a crucial tool in helping to keep you healthy and on your feet if you have cardiovascular disease of any kind. Ask your GP to put you forward for an “exercise referral” scheme, where qualified trainers will supervise your programme and teach you how to exercise safely on your own.
The good news is that with courage and perseverance, you should be able to improve your walking quite a lot. The right kind of exercise will encourage your body to get fitter in ways that will make walking much more comfortable and easier to sustain in future.
A qualified instructor will ask you to walk (outside or on a treadmill) until your leg pain comes on, and only stop when you can no longer bear it. After a short rest the pain will go away and you’ll be asked to walk some more, and so on. This is what you may hear doctors referring to as “walking through the pain” – and it’s about the only instance in exercise training when we ask people to put up with pain. Over time, you should be able to walk farther and faster before the pain comes on. Other strengthening exercises to complement your walking programme should make you feel a lot more positive about managing your arterial disease long-term.