Take a step away from PAD

If you're on the other side of 50, you almost certainly know someone with peripheral artery disease. You might even have it yourself, because it's one of the most common conditions among older Americans.

PAD, as it's called, is when some of your arteries start to narrow, usually in the legs. It can lead to pain and difficulty walking, which is bad enough. But even worse, it can also increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

If your doctor spots it, he'll almost certainly recommend a stent to prop those arteries back open.

But new research confirms what I've been telling my own patients: A stent should be your absolute last resort, because you can reverse PAD entirely on your own, without drugs or surgery.

And all you need to do is walk a little more.

Walk five days a week for about 50 minutes a day, and you can expect both your speed and distance to improve. In the new study, PAD patients who stuck to the program -- entirely on their own -- were able to walk 87 feet further during a six-minute test one year later.

PAD patients who didn't walk, on the other hand, actually lost 25 feet during that test.

This isn't just a race to see who can go further or faster. Distance and speed are key markers of the progression of PAD. If you can pick up the pace a little, the condition is likely improving.

And if you can't, you're a prime candidate for that stent.

If walking a little more can help you avoid that, then lace up your shoes and get moving -- it's worth the effort, because once that stent is in, you'll be expected to live with it for the rest of your life.

And whatever you do, don't assume that pain and difficulty walking are normal parts of aging.

They're not -- they're warning signs of something wrong, including PAD, and if you're having trouble getting around yourself, don't wait for it to get worse.

Get help.