Vascular Disease Foundation - Fighting Vascular Disease... Improving Vascular Health.

Disease Information : PAD : Treatment : Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle Modifications

Why is it Important to Modify My Lifestyle?

According to medical studies, plaque buildup in arterial walls can be decreased (and even reversed) if you change your lifestyle. In other words, if you can make some simple changes in you diet, start exercising, and quit smoking, for example, you might be able to avoid drug therapy or surgery. Changing your lifestyle works, and it's easier than the alternatives.

How Long Should the Change Last?

If you can make the changes your physician suggests, you'll start seeing the effects within six months. But the benefits only last as long as you keep it up -- if you start smoking again, for example, you'll end up back where you started. Look at the changes you make as a new way to live, not as temporary "diet" or brief, healthy binge.

Do I Have to Stop Smoking?

Yes. If you are smoking in any way, shape or form, your symptoms will not go away and treatment won't work. The medications your doctor gives you won't work if you are smoking. Even one or two cigarettes a day, or low nicotine cigarettes, cause damage. You have to quit, not cut back. Every year, smoking causes 350,000 deaths. Most of the deaths are caused by heart attacks. Tobacco use of any type hurts your heart and blood vessels in two major ways. First, nicotine narrows blood vessels. Second, the carbon monoxide in smoke damages the cells that line arteries so they get hard -- it's difficult for blood to move through narrow, inflexible passages.

How Do I Quit?

People often find it easiest to quit smoking if they use a combination of things. Often, a combination of methods is easiest. For example, 85% of smokers who use nicotine patches in combination with group programs quit.

There are many alternatives, including nicotine gum, patches and prescription medications to help curb nicotine cravings. Many people fear they will gain weight after quitting. Surprisingly, the average weight gain after one year of quitting is only 6 pounds. The health risks of smoking are greater than this amount of weight gain. Facing your addiction openly and honestly is the basis for success. For more facts on peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and smoking, click here

What About Lowering Cholesterol?

Your physician might give you medicine or suggest changes in your diet to lower cholesterol. Cholesterol levels can go up or down based on the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the food you eat, your weight, and the amount of exercise you do. To some extent, cholesterol levels also are hereditary -- if your parents had high cholesterol, you are more likely to have it too.

Inherited or not, you can lower your cholesterol levels by reducing or eliminating meats high in saturated fat, whole dairy products (this includes cheese!), coconut and palm oils (these show up in many store-bought cookies, cakes, and crackers.

Changing lifelong eating habits can be hard, but following a physician's diet recommendations can be a significant component to success.

Is Lowering My Blood Pressure Important?

When untreated, high blood pressure increases the workload on the heart and creates undue stress on the arteries. Be serious about taking your medicine to avoid risk of stroke, heart attack and congestive heart failure. A diet low in salts and saturated fats will help, too.

Helpful Resources:

Kleinman, Lowell and Deborah Messina Kleinman, MPH.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Quitting Smoking.
Indianapolis, IN: Macmillan Publishers, 2000.
ISBN# 0-02-863915-4.

Holmquist, Allen.
Meditations for Life Without Cigarettes.
Los Angeles, CA: CMH Records, 1999.
ISBN: 1-885505-32-9

Farquhar, John, with Spiller G.A.
The Last Puff. Ex-smokers Share the Secrets of Their Success.
New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991.
ISBN: 0393308030

Stevic-Rust, Lori & Maximin, Anita
The Stop Smoking Workbook.
Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1996.
ISBN: 1572240377

How Do I Stay Motivated?

Remember that lifestyle behavior change should be gradual and will come in stages. Motivation for change is different for each person. When you feel discouraged, try these suggestions:

Seek support from your health care professional or mental health counselor.

Peripheral Arterial Disease section was last modified: December 21, 2010 - 06:12 pm

All of the medical information contained on VDF's Web site has been written by medical professionals and then peer-reviewed by a multidisciplinary committee who edits the material appropriately.