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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Northwestern Finds Walking at Home Improves Clogged Leg Arteries: Long-Term Benefits for PAD Patients

New Northwestern Medicine research, representing the largest study of its kind, concludes that a home-based exercise program helped people with peripheral artery disease (PAD) walk farther and faster, according to a study published recently in the Journal of the American Heart Association. The program was beneficial even 12 months after participants started.

“The problem with supervised exercise is that it takes many visits to a cardiac rehabilitation center or other exercise facility, and it is not covered by most medical insurance companies, including Medicare,” said Dr. Mary McGrae McDermott, lead author and the Jeremiah Stamler Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “These results should encourage physicians to recommend walking even if their patients do not have access to a supervised exercise program.”

Affecting one in 20 Americans older than 50, PAD develops when arteries become narrowed and clogged, reducing blood flow to the legs. Previous studies have shown that supervised exercise can improve walking and lessen the symptoms of PAD, but this is the first to document the long-term benefits of a home-based walking program.

The study compared walking ability in patients and controls one year after the end of a six-month program that encouraged home-based walking. For the first six months, patients participated in weekly meetings to provide support and skills training to help them adhere to the home exercise program. They also received phone calls to encourage continued walking during months seven through 12.

At 12 months, participants in the home-based program had increased the distance they could walk in six minutes from 355.4 to 381.9 meters, an improvement of about 87 feet. In contrast, the distance covered by the controls fell slightly, from 353.1 to 345.6 meters.


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