Preventing peripheral arterial disease  

The most effective way to prevent peripheral arterial disease (PAD) or stop the condition getting worse is to tackle the build-up of fatty substances in your arteries (atherosclerosis).

There are five main ways you can achieve this:

  • eat a healthy diet
  • stop smoking, if you smoke
  • exercise regularly
  • lose weight, if you are overweight or obese
  • moderate your consumption of alcohol

These lifestyle changes are discussed in more detail below.

Healthy diet

Eating an unhealthy diet that is high in fat can cause fatty plaques to build up in your arteries. This is because fatty foods contain cholesterol.

There are also two types of fat  saturated and unsaturated. Avoid foods containing saturated fats, because they will increase the levels of "bad cholesterol" in your blood.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • meat pies
  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • butter
  • ghee (a type of butter often used in Indian cooking)
  • lard
  • cream
  • hard cheese
  • cakes and biscuits
  • food that contains coconut or palm oil

However, it is not healthy to completely cut out all types of fat from your diet. It is important to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, as they can help increase levels of "good cholesterol" and reduce blockage in your arteries.

Foods that are high in unsaturated fat include:

  • oily fish (mackerel, salmon, tuna)
  • avocados
  • nuts and seeds
  • sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil

Read more detailed information on the facts about fat and how to eat less saturated fat.

Eating a low-fat diet including lots of fibre, such as wholegrain rice, bread and pasta, and plenty of fruit and vegetables, may also help to lower cholesterol. Fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and fibre, and help keep your body in good condition. Aim to eat five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Read more about getting your 5 A Day and healthy eating.

Stop smoking

If you smoke, it is strongly recommended that you quit as soon as possible.

If you decide to stop smoking, your GP can refer you to an NHS Smokefree service, which will offer dedicated help and advice about the best ways to quit.

You can also call the Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044 (7am to 11pm). The specially trained helpline staff offer free expert advice and encouragement.

If you are committed to giving up smoking but do not want to be referred to a stop smoking service, your GP should be able to prescribe treatment to ease your withdrawal symptoms.

Read more about stopping smoking and stop smoking treatments.

Exercise regularly

If you do not have PAD, a minimum of 150 minutes of vigorous exercise a week is recommended. The exercise should be strenuous enough to leave your heart beating faster, and you should feel slightly out of breath afterwards.

Activities you could incorporate into your exercise programme include:

  • brisk walking
  • hill climbing
  • running
  • cycling
  • swimming

If you find it difficult to achieve 150 minutes of exercise a week, start at a level you feel comfortable with. For example, you could do 5 to 10 minutes of light exercise a day and then gradually increase the duration and intensity of your activity as your fitness begins to improve.

Read more about health and fitness and starting to exercise.

For guidance on exercise for people with PAD, read more about treating PAD.

Maintain a healthy weight

If you are overweight or obese, aim to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight by using a combination of regular exercise and a calorie-controlled diet.

Read more about losing weight and treatments for obesity.

Cut down on alcohol

If you drink alcohol, do not exceed recommended limits (14 units a week for men and women).

A unit of alcohol is roughly half a pint of normal-strength lager or a single measure (25ml) of spirits.

Regularly exceeding recommended alcohol limits can raise your blood pressure and cholesterol level, which can cause your blood vessels to become damaged or narrowed.

Contact your GP if you find it difficult to moderate your drinking. Counselling services and medication can help you reduce your alcohol intake.

Read more about drinking and alcohol.


Atherosclerosis is a thickening of the walls of the arteries. Find out how it affects the body, the risk factors involved, prevention and treatment.

Media last reviewed: 22/04/2015

Next review due: 22/04/2017

Managing diabetes

If you have diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing peripheral arterial disease (PAD) if your condition is not well managed.

Your diabetes can be managed by making sure you take any medication or insulin prescribed to you, watching your blood sugar level, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

Read more about type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Page last reviewed: 03/09/2014

Next review due: 03/09/2016