Exercise Can Help Improve Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms – Here’s Why

Exercise Can Help Improve Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms – Here’s Why By Matthew FarrowUniversity of Bradford via Natural Blaze

Many people with rheumatoid arthritis avoid exercise for fear that it may make their arthritis worse. While it may be hard to exercise with arthritis, staying as active as possible has actually been shown to reduce pain and improve symptoms. This is because our bodies are designed to move.

Rheumatoid arthritis, which affects approximately 400,000 adults in the UK, is a long-term condition that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints due to inflammation. Muscle weakness and fatigue are also commonly reported symptoms. People may also experience flare-ups, which are periods where their symptoms become worse.

Although there’s no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are many treatments available, such as disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. These ease symptoms, slow down the condition’s progress and reduce joint pain and inflammation. Lifestyle changes may also be recommended – including changing diet, or attending physiotherapy, which can help improve fitness, flexibility and strength.

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But evidence also suggests that physical activity and exercise may help to manage rheumatoid arthritis. As people with rheumatoid arthritis often have worse muscle health even when in clinical remission than those without the condition, exercise may help improve strength and reduce weakness.

Get moving

According to research, exercise has anti-inflammatory effects. This is important as chronic inflammation may lead to certain diseases – such as diabetes. Exercise reduces inflammation by reducing fat and increasing the production and release of anti-inflammatory molecules from our muscles. Given that inflammation is a primary cause of joint pain in rheumatoid arthritis, this may be why exercise is shown to improve symptoms.

One study published in 2013 investigating the effects of exercise on rheumatoid arthritis showed that just 12 weeks of regular exercise improved physical function and quality of life for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The study looked at 108 patients in total – half of whom only received standard rheumatoid arthritis treatments, and the other half who followed an exercise regime alongside standard treatment. Exercise plans included cardiovascular exercise and strength training exercises for both the upper and lower body.

After 12 weeks, there were statistically significant differences in physical function – as shown by their hand-grip strength (a measurement of upper body strength and overall strength) – between those who exercised and those who didn’t. Those who took part in exercise also had lower disease activity than those who did not – meaning they had fewer swollen joints and signs of inflammation in their blood.

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