Supervised vs unsupervised exercise for intermittent claudication: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Am Heart J. 2015 Jun;169(6):924-937.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.ahj.2015.03.009. Epub 2015 Mar 26.


Background: Supervised exercise (SE) is widely accepted as an effective therapy for intermittent claudication (IC), but its use is limited by cost. Unsupervised exercise (UE) represents a less costly alternative. We assessed the comparative effectiveness of SE vs UE in patients with IC.

Methods and results: We searched PubMed, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and identified 27 unique studies (24 randomized controlled trials, 4 observational studies) that evaluated the comparative effectiveness of SE vs UE in 2074 patients with IC. Compared with UE, SE was associated with a moderate improvement in maximal walking distance at 6 months (effect size 0.77, 95% CI 0.36-1.17, P < .001) and 12 months (effect size 0.56, 95% CI 0.34-0.77, P < .001). Supervised exercise also improved claudication distance to a moderate extent compared with UE at 6 months (effect size 0.63, 95% CI 0.40-0.85, P < .001) and 12 months (effect size 0.41, 95% CI 0.18-0.65, P = .001). There was no difference in the Short Form-36 quality of life at 6 months (effect size -0.05, 95% CI -0.50 to 0.41, P = .84) or walking impairment questionnaire distance (effect size 0.24, 95% CI -0.03 to 0.50, P = .08) or speed (effect size 0.26, 95% CI -0.06 to 0.59, P = .11).

Conclusions: In claudication patients, SE is more effective than UE at improving maximal walking and claudication distances, yet there is no difference in general quality of life or patient-reported community-based walking. Further studies are needed to investigate the relationship between functional gain and disease-specific quality of life.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Intermittent Claudication / therapy*
  • Quality of Life
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Walking