Benefits of Exercise & Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis is most prevalent in individuals aged 40 years or older with the risk of developing RA being up to 5 times higher in women. Typical symptoms are severe joint pain, reduced muscle strength, and impaired physical function. Severe inflammation is a major feature of this progressive disease with long-term joint damage and disability expected. Given that chronic low-grade inflammation is thought to play an important role in the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD), atherosclerosis, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that systemic inflammation contributes to elevated CVD in persons with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Most Rheumatoid Arthritis patients also suffer from an accelerated loss of muscle mass, this muscle wasting is a condition known as “rheumatoid cachexia” and this loss contributes to disability and has a significant impact on an individuals’ quality of life

Improving quality of life Exercise has been shown to have specific health benefits in people with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Properly designed physical exercise programs include improved cardiorespiratory fitness and cardiovascular health, increased muscle mass, reduced body fat, improved strength, and physical functioning, all achieved without exacerbation of disease activity or joint damage. Benefits of high intensity exercise training When comparing the effectiveness of high and low intensity exercise training in stable Rheumatoid Arthritis it is found that the high intensity exercise training was more effective in increasing aerobic capacity, muscle strength, joint mobility, and physical function with no detrimental effect on disease activity in patients with controlled and active Rheumatoid Arthritis. High intensity resistance exercise has been shown to safely reverse muscle wasting in people with Rheumatoid Arthritis. A 24-week high-intensity progressive resistance training program produced significant increases in lean body mass, reduced body fat, and substantial improvements in muscle strength and physical function. A progressive resistance training program can also benefit other health aspects, for example, improving coordination and balance in older adults which Rheumatoid Arthritis can detrimentally affect. It is also important to maintain normal muscle strength in order to stabilize the knee joint, preventing joint angulation, and later osteoarthritis. There is an essential role for the combination of high intensity, weight- and impact-bearing exercises in improving bone mineral density in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients. Exercise can reduce pain, morning stiffness, and even reduce fatigue, exercise can improve functional ability and psychological well-being; and exercise has not been shown to exacerbate disease activity.

Obtaining Optimum Results The optimum exercise program for Rheumatoid Arthritis patients would include both aerobic and resistance training. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM )have issued a separate set of guidelines for older adults, that is, men and women aged 65 years and above and adults aged 50–64 years with clinically significant chronic conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis. Muscle strengthening exercises are recommended for all stages. Effective exercise training

Exercise programs for RA patients should be initially supervised by an experienced exercise professional so that the program can be tailored to individual aspirations and adapted to the disease activity, joint defects, and symptoms of patients. With a loss in muscle mass, and subsequent functional limitation and burgeoning disability a characteristic of the disease. Rheumatoid Arthritis patients should be encouraged to perform exercises which elicit muscle gain and strengthening. Several studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects for Rheumatoid Arthritis patients of performing muscle strengthening exercises, in particular progressive resistance training. Improvements include increases in muscle mass, reduction in fat mass, and substantial improvements in physical function. Exercises that involve the large muscle groups of the upper and lower extremities as well as hand strengthening exercises have been shown to be effective The effects of a two-year dynamic strength training program in early RA patients found significant improvements in muscle strength (19–59%) along with reductions in systemic inflammation, pain, morning stiffness, and disease activity. What you can expect When you make exercise a regular part of your life, the benefits include:

  • Less pain from rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Stronger bones, this is important because Rheumatoid Arthritis can thin your bones, especially if you take steroids.

  • You’ll move better and have more energy.

  • It’s good for your heart and all your other muscles. References: 
SAGE-Hindawi Access to Research Journal of Aging Research Volume 2011, Article ID 681640, 14 pages WebMD https://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/exercise-and-rheumatoid-arthritis

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