The study of 417 men and women, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, indicates that those who walked for exercise three or more times per week had a significantly smaller average annual decline in walking distance and speed than those who walked one to two times per week.
The study was led by Mary McGrae McDermott, M.D., associate professor of medicine, division of general internal medicine, at the Feinberg School.
The researchers also found that only a small proportion of African-American study participants walked for exercise three or more times per week. Previous studies have shown that African-American patients with PAD have greater functional impairment than white patients. Additionally, the prevalence of PAD is higher in African-Americans than in white patients.
"Data from the study suggest that doctors should take steps to encourage African-American individuals to increase their frequency of walking exercise," McDermott said.
Approximately 20 percent of the elderly have PAD. Research has shown that PAD tends to worsen over time, but participation in regular physical rehabilitation programs that include supervised treadmill walking at least three times a week has been shown to improve walking performance and slow the progression of the disease.
However, many patients with PAD have difficulty attending a supervised exercise program because of cost or transportation problems.
Results of the Northwestern study suggest that unsupervised walking exercise, such as that performed at home, also slows progression of PAD.