Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol 2019 Jun 19;316(6):H1495-H1506. Epub 2019 Apr 19.
School of Physical Education, Sport, and Exercise Sciences, University of Otago , Dunedin , New Zealand.
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is characterized by lower limb atherosclerosis impairing blood supply and causing walking-induced leg pain or claudication. Adherence to traditional exercise training programs is poor due to these symptoms despite exercise being a mainstay of conservative treatment. Heat therapy improves many cardiovascular health outcomes, so this study tested if this was a viable alternative cardiovascular therapy for PAD patients. Volunteers with PAD were randomized to 12 wk of heat ( = 11; mean age 76 ± 8 yr, BMI 28.7 ± 3.5 kg/m, 4 females) or exercise ( = 11; 74 ± 10 yr, 28.5 ± 6.8 kg/m, 3 females). Heat involved spa bathing at ∼39°C, 3-5 days/wk for ≤30 min, followed by ≤30 min of callisthenics. Exercise involved ≤90 min of supervised walking and gym-based exercise, 1-2 days/wk. Following the interventions, total walking distance during a 6-min walk test increased (from ∼350 m) by 41 m (95% CI: [13, 69], = 0.006) regardless of group, and pain-free walking distance increased (from ∼170 m) by 43 m ([22, 63], < 0.001). Systolic blood pressure was reduced more following heat (-7 mmHg, [-4, -10], < 0.001) than following exercise (-3 mmHg, [0, -6], = 0.078), and diastolic and mean arterial pressure decreased by 4 mmHg in both groups ( = 0.002). There were no significant changes in blood volume, ankle-brachial index, or measures of vascular health. There were no differences in the improvement in functional or blood pressure outcomes between heat and exercise in individuals with PAD. Heat therapy via hot-water immersion and supervised exercise both improved walking distance and resting blood pressure in peripheral arterial disease (PAD) patients over 12 wk. Adherence to heat therapy was excellent, and the heat intervention was well tolerated. The results of the current study indicate that heat therapy can improve functional ability and has potential as an effective cardiovascular conditioning tool for individuals with PAD.
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