Updated 23 January 2017

Exercise is good for rheumatoid arthritis patients

Aerobic cardio exercise is safe for patients coping with joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

A study, published in the July issue of Arthritis Care & Research, found that regular exercise can lead to less rheumatoid arthritis, higher functioning and an improved quality of life overall for these patients.

"While past studies have indicated that RA patients are quite physically inactive, our study shows aerobic exercise to be a safe and beneficial intervention for this group. Further trials are needed to clearly determine the clinical impact of cardio-respiratory conditioning in the management of RA," lead author Dr. Athan Baillet, from the University of Grenoble Medical School in France, said in a news release from the journal's publisher.

Relative to healthy people, RA patients are two times more likely to have health-driven limitations on the kinds of activities they can engage in, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 1 percent of the global population that is struck by the disease, which is characterized by swollen joints, pain, stiffness, fatigue and a general sense of being unwell, are also 40 percent more likely to say they are in fair or poor general health, the World Health Organization has noted.

In the new report, researchers looked at 14 previous studies that focused on RA patients and aerobic exercise.

Collectively, the studies included more than 1,000 patients, evenly divided between those with RA and healthy participants, aged 44 to 68.

Those with RA had coped with the disease for up to 16 years, the study authors noted.

"Our results show that patients with stable RA would benefit from regular aerobic exercise," Baillet said in a news release from the journal's publisher. "Cardio-respiratory conditioning appears safe and its effects, while small, help to reduce joint pain and improve function," Baillet added.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, people with rheumatoid arthritis can benefit from exercise. In fact, the organization recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobics, including walking, aerobic dance and water exercise.

Read more:

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

Causes of rheumatoid arthritis  

Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis 

Source: American College of Rheumatology, World Health Organization, Centrers for Disease Control and Prevention


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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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