Arm Workouts Get Heart Patients' Legs Moving

Table-top exercise can help those with arterial disease, study finds

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TUESDAY, Nov. 14, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Exercising the arms help lower pain in the legs for people with peripheral artery disease (PAD), a U.S. study finds.

Aerobic arm workouts can also get patients up and walking better, too, researchers report.

In people with PAD, plaque builds up and narrows arteries in the extremities (usually the legs) and limits blood supply to the muscles. As a result, leg muscles can begin to cramp and hurt after patients walk just a short distance. The pain subsides after a few minutes of rest.

Previous research found that treadmill training benefited PAD patients.

This study found that patients who used an arm ergometer -- a table-top device that has bicycle-like pedals that are operated by the arms -- gained improved walking ability.

"This the first study showing that arm-only aerobics can provide results comparable to those seen with treadmill training," study author Diane Treat-Jacobson, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, said in a prepared statement.

The study included 35 PAD patients (average age 67) who were randomly divided into different groups: no exercise; treadmill exercise; arm ergometer exercise; and exercise with both arm ergometer and treadmill.

The patients in the exercise groups had hourlong workout sessions three times a week for 12 weeks. After that time, patients in all three groups showed improvements in the total distance they could walk and how far they could walk without pain.

The findings were to be presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting, in Chicago.

"We were happy to discover that upper-body aerobics can help patients with PAD increase the distance they can walk without pain. We need additional studies to confirm the results, better understand why and how this works, and also identify the best training regimen for patients," Treat-Jacobson said.

"In the meantime, our results provide evidence that aerobic upper-body exercise is a pain-free alternative for patients with PAD who cannot or do not wish to perform treadmill exercises because of leg pain or some other disability," she said.

More information

The Society for Vascular Surgery has more about PAD.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Nov. 14, 2006

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