British scientists have discovered that simple arm exercises could help beat a crippling leg condition.
This is the first large-scale trial of its kind to show that a regular workout of the upper body can help ease the chronic leg pain associated with peripheral vascular disease (PVD).
Scientists of Sheffield Hallam University, along with staff at the University of Sheffield, found in a study that upper body aerobic exercise helped in the battle against PVD, a blood circulation problem, which causes severe leg pain and leaves patients struggling to walk even short distances, New Scientist reported Wednesday on its website.
The study funded by The British Heart Foundation found that exercising the upper body by arm-cranking, stationary cycling using the arms, improved cardiovascular fitness over a 24-week period and enabled patients to walk for longer without experiencing pain.
More than 100 patients with PVD aged between the age of 50 and 85 were recruited from the Sheffield Vascular Institute at the Northern General Hospital, whose pain tolerance levels were measured in a series of walking tests at six-weekly intervals and the total improvements were calculated at the end of the 24 weeks.
By the end of the study, the patients' average maximum walking distance increased by nearly 29 percent, equal to an extra 100 meters. They could also walk for 50 percent longer before the onset of leg pain.
The scientists who conducted the study said the cardiovascular function and walking ability of the patients with PVD have both been improved after the arm exercises, the onset of their leg pains was delayed during walking, and they could push themselves further beyond the pain barrier to achieve improvements in maximum tolerable walking distance.
The advantage of exercising the arms for patients with PVD is that the patients do not generally encounter pain during this type of physical activity, which helps to increase their motivation and enthusiasm for exercise, the scientists said.
PVD, for which Smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and a poor diet are high risk factors, occurs when the arteries narrow or become blocked with fatty material, failing to deliver enough oxygen-containing blood to the legs during walking exercise.