Group sessions that teach and encourage people with poor circulation in their legs to walk regularly on their own improves mobility and prevents its loss, according to a new study.
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The findings suggest that supervised activity is not essential for peripheral artery disease (PAD) patients, and doctors and other healthcare providers should not rule out at-home programs, said the study’s lead author.
“We did this study, because we were trying to identify an alternative exercise program for PAD patients,” said Dr. Mary McDermott of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Supervised treadmill exercise improves walking ability among people with PAD, the researchers note in the Journal of the American Heart Association, May 20.
“I would say it works better than any other medication or other therapy by a long shot,” McDermott told Reuters Health.
Most people don’t take part in the supervised exercise though, the authors write. The poor participation is likely due to cost and the trouble of getting to the exercise facility.
“We aimed to develop a program that would be much less burdensome and costly than a supervised program,” McDermott said.
For the year-long study, the researchers recruited 194 participants with PAD, age 65 years and older, from the Chicago area.
Half of the participants attended weekly group sessions with a facilitator for the first six months of the study. The sessions were designed to encourage participants to walk on their own – whether on a treadmill or just around the neighborhood – at least five days per week.
The goal was to start walking for 15 minutes per day and eventually work up to 50 minutes per day.
The other half of the participants were assigned to a comparison group that attended weekly meetings for the first six months of the study on various health topics.
During the last six months of the study, the participants in the walking-encouragement group no longer attended sessions, instead receiving phone calls from a facilitator.
At the end of the year, the researchers found that about 9% of people who were encouraged to walk lost mobility, versus about 34% in the comparison group.
What’s more, by the end of the study, 83% of the people who were encouraged to walk regained mobility, which was defined as the ability to climb a flight of stairs or walk a quarter of a mile. That compared to about 37% of the other group.
“The degree to which this intervention helped people stay away from mobility loss or prevent mobility loss for me is rather striking,” McDermott said.
Though McDermott said she’s not aware of any programs like this for people with PAD, there may be similar programs at senior centers for older people in general.
“If somebody doesn’t have access, it’s still good idea to walk at home for exercise,” she said.
The next step would be to see how crucial the group session component of the program is to its success, McDermott said.
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J Am Heart Assoc 2015.