Novel Exercise; Weight training also called resistance training can help people with peripheral artery disease reduce painful symptoms like muscle cramps during walking, a study by UNSW medical researchers recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has shown. In people with peripheral artery disease (PAD), a build-up of plaque in the arteries cause by high cholesterol, nicotine and other cardiovascular disease risk factors leads to narrowing of the arteries and ultimately reduce blood and oxygen supply to the legs.
Once the disease progresses, patients can develop a cramping pain while walking, which is quickly relieved by rest. This leads to patients avoiding walking and other forms of exercise that cause the pain; resulting in increase sedentary behaviors, and increased risk of developing further vascular disease, including to the arteries of the heart (leading to heart attack) and brain (leading to stroke).
The novel exercise
“One of the biggest issues is that peripheral artery disease is asymptomatic to start and only gets diagnose when patients present to their doctor with the cramping pain. This means it has already progressed,” says lead author Dr. Belinda Parmenter, Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Deputy Head of UNSW’s School of Medical Sciences.
“Once symptoms kick in, they can often be really painful they call the main symptom intermittent claudication. Essentially, it means people experience severe muscle cramps when they are physically active; so like when walking, which is then relieved by rest.” Upon diagnosis, novel exercise is typically the number one and initial treatment prescribed; so with interval walking the current gold standard for improving symptoms.
Challenge accepted: Dr. Parmenter started researching the potential benefits of weight training for PAD. A trial she ran showed that high-intensity resistance training was effective for improving walking ability in patients with PAD and this recent meta-analysis reinforces that finding. “It’s really exciting they found that high-intensity; weight training improves people’s walking ability. The results indicated that it was effective at improving all forms of walking both graded treadmill and flat ground walking. It improve how far someone could walk before the pain kicked in, and their total walking distance,” she says.
Patient’s walking abilities
In one patient’s case, Dr. Parmenter was able to build muscle strength; also endurance and improved her patient’s walking abilities through high intensity resistance training. Once the patient could work a bit harder; she then started experiencing unusual shortness of breath and chest tightness at the higher walking work loads. The appearance of the symptoms led to a diagnosis of ischemic heart disease she ended up needing a quadruple bypass, but has recovered well and is now fitter than ever.
Beyond PAD, weight training has multiple benefits for heart health and has been associated with a 30-40% reduction in death from all causes, with a slightly stronger association for women. “Weight training has also been show to improve each of the biological risk factors for cardiovascular disease; including overweight and obesity,” Dr. Parmenter explains.
“It increases muscle mass which leads to a higher resting metabolic rate; meaning it’s easier for your body to burn more calories at rest, and therefore maintain a healthy weight. “Weight training is also related to reduced blood pressure; improved insulin sensitivity and therefore blood glucose control, and reduced triglycerides. We recommend to complete at least 2 sessions a week of whole body training at a moderate to high intensity.”