A new study found that high-intensity, long-term exercise may help patients in the beginning stages of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) function better ?physically and emotionally. Such exercise has previously not been encouraged for fear that it might further damage the joints. Thus, RA patients have been at greater risk for heart disease.
For the study, researchers assigned 300 RA patients to either an exercise program or physical therapy for 2 years. The exercise group participated in a supervised, biweekly program for more than an hour.The program included the following:
20 minutes of strength training with weights
20 minutes of bike riding?keeping the heart rate at ~70% to 90% of maximum heart rate
20 minutes of sports, such as basketball and soccer
The results showed no major, harmful effect on weight-bearing joints, except in patients who began the program with considerable large joint damage. Also, there was a significantly larger improvement in aerobic fitness in the exercise group, compared with the physical therapy group.
On an emotional level, the exercise group participants reported feeling more optimistic and better able to cope, compared with the physical therapy group patients. The researchers say that further research is needed on the subject, however. (The findings were published in the September 2003 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism.)