Peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, is a condition in which blood flow to the limbs, usually the legs, is limited because arteries have become narrower. This is usually due to fatty deposits accumulating in the arteries. In addition to causing discomfort and pain in the legs during activity, PAD also ups your chances of heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, approximately one in every 20 people over the age of 50 in the United States has this common but serious disease.

You may be at risk for PAD if you…
• Currently smoke or used to smoke
• Have diabetes
• Are African American
• Have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
• Are overweight or obese
• Are over the age of 50
• Have a family or personal history of heart disease

Preventing PAD

While some risk factors for PAD are out of your control, you can take steps to reduce or eliminate others. These include:

Quitting smoking. While a history of cigarette smoking raises your chance of developing PAD, quitting late is better than never. There are many options to help you quit, including support groups, prescriptions, nicotine replacements, and even hypnosis. Quitting smoking can also also lower your chances of lung and throat cancer and other cardiovascular diseases.
Getting plenty of exercise. According to Mayo Clinic, you should try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. While moderate-intensity exercise may be the most effective, even easier activities like walking the dog or going on a leisurely bike ride will help. Whatever exercise you do, try to make it a habit: go for a jog before work every morning, or take a walk every evening after dinner.
Eating right. Aim to reduce or eliminate sugar and saturated and trans fats from your diet and replace them with foods high in protein and healthy fats. Of course, be sure you also eat the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Losing weight. If you have a body mass index over 25, losing weight may lower your risk of developing PAD. Manage your weight by increasing your activity and following a balanced diet plan of nutritious food. Ask your doctor for advice to help you reach your goals.
Lowering your other numbers. The numbers on your scale aren't the only ones that could put you at risk of developing PAD. High blood pressure and cholesterol are also major risk factors. While losing weight, eating healthy and getting exercise can put a dent in high numbers, medicine may also be necessary. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to get your blood pressure and cholesterol into a healthy range. If you're diabetic, it's important to monitor your glucose levels closely as well.

Check with your doctor before changing your diet or starting a new exercise routine to confirm that they are appropriate for your physical condition, and to make sure they won’t interfere with other treatments.

If taking these steps seems like too much, start with one and when you have mastered it add another. Soon you’ll make a real difference in reducing your risk of PAD.