Exercising despite limitations

My neck issues (past surgery for herniated discs) significantly limits what I can do as far as upper body weight training.  But that doesn’t stop me from doing core and lower body strength training.

People with blood vessel disease (usually because of smoking, diabetes, and/or high cholesterol) often’t can’t walk too far, because their legs start to hurt.  They hurt because the muscles don’t get enough oxygen because of blocked blood vessels – this is called claudication.  These patients then often enter a downward spiral.  I worked with patients like these in the OR (as a cardiovascular anesthesiologist) for over 20 years – I know the story well.

Now comes exciting research that shows that if these patients do ARM exercises, they improve their LEG function (distance walked before leg pain sets in).  More importantly. they reported improved quality of life!

Patients in the study were given an exercise regimen that slowly progressed, using an arm-cranking machine or a bicycle ergometer:

In practice, a very flexible approach was needed to ensure that patients attended both weekly sessions.

Patients exercised in cycles of 2 minutes of exercise at a crank rate of 50 rpm, followed by 2 minutes of rest for a total exercise time of 20 minutes in a 40-minute session. Incremental arm-cranking and leg-cranking tests to maximum exercise tolerance were performed during weeks 6, 12, and 18 of the intervention so that the respective upper-limb and lower-limb exercise intensities could be adjusted to ensure progression of the exercise stimulus.

So, we must persevere despite limitations.  For some, that might mean swimming or water aerobics when the hip and knee joints hurt too much for walking or jogging.  Just do it!



Dr John Ellis MD

Board-certified anesthesiologist, with expertise in cardiovascular anesthesia and the implications of obesity and sleep apnea in anesthesia. See vascularanesthesia.com for professional information. Dr. Ellis has used the strategies in here to: (1) lose 120 lbs over 18 months, (2) stop all antihypertensive medicines, and (3) no longer need CPAP treatment for sleep apnea.

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