Exercise Helps Elders Go the Extra Mile
From the publishers of the New England Journal of
For some older people with circulatory problems, a short walk around the block is an excruciating ordeal. Narrowing of the arteries in the legs causes claudication, an aching pain induced by walking and relieved by rest. The condition, named after the Roman emperor Claudius, often causes people to limp or avoid walking whenever possible.Physicians have prescribed a variety of exercises to treat claudication. But a report in the September 27 Journal of the American Medical Association shows that one simple regimen appears to be more effective than all other forms of exercise therapy. Researchers from the University of Maryland at Baltimore reviewed 21 studies of exercise programs designed to improve claudication symptoms. They found that the greatest improvement came when patients walked, despite their pain, for a minimum of 30 minutes three times a week for at least six months. Walking to the point of maximum pain produced greater success than stopping at the first hint of discomfortpatients who pushed themselves beyond the onset of pain were able to walk the equivalent of two blocks farther than those whose training allowed them to stop sooner. Exercise doesn't improve the circulation directly. Instead, it trains the leg muscles to work more efficiently. Because this condition can be so debilitating, it's often tempting for people to search for a quick fix. But, according to HealthNews associate editor Arthur Feinberg, in this case the best treatment may be the low-tech one. "Before reaching for medications, which generally are not helpful, or turning to invasive surgery, starting a simple walking program makes the most sense."