"Next to stopping smoking, exercise is most important," says Dr. Young. The type of exercise he's talking about, and the type our experts overwhelmingly recommend, is the simplest of all—walking.
"Get out every day for at least an hour of walking exercise," says Dr. Young. "You can break that up any way you want, but you have to bring on the discomfort of intermittent claudication to have the walking do any good." Walk until you bring on the pain, he says, but don't stop at the first sign of pain. "Wait until it gets moderately severe. Then stop and rest a minute or two until it goes away, then start up walking again." Repeat that pain/walk cycle as often as you can during your 60 minutes of daily walking.
Be warned, however, that improvement won't happen overnight. "It will be 2 to 3 months, minimum, before you see results," says Dr. Young. So don't get discouraged.
A study at the Claude D. Petter Older Americans Independence Center at the University of Maryland showed just how much walking can improve the lives of patients with intermittent claudication. Patients who participated in a 6-month exercise program increased the distance they could walk without pain by 134 percent. The bloodflow in their calves increased 30 percent. Perhaps most important, the changes weren't just in the gym. The 28 patients studied also increased their everyday activity level by 38 percent. The benefit of exercise was highly significant when the active group was compared to a control group of patients who didn't change any of their habits for the study.