Undertaking a supervised exercise program can have beneficial effects on functional status and physical function, reduce the need for daily corticosteroid and anti-inflammatory intake and improve levels of depression and anxiety in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a new study presented at EULAR 2009, the Annual Congress of the European League Against Rheumatism in Copenhagen, Denmark.
A three-month programme, comprising moderate aerobic and strengthening exercises, conducted for 50-60 minutes three times per week, proved not only to be safe and beneficial both physically and in terms of quality of life for patients, but was also associated with a stabilising effect in disease activity measured by DAS28*. During the Portuguese study's three month period, researchers observed the following:
 

  • An improvement in physical function, as outlined below:
    55% improvement in the 'sit and stand' test (p=0.018) 
    10% improvement in the right-hand grip test (p=0.025) and 15% in the left-hand grip test (p=0.035)
    19% improvement in the walk time test (p=0.063)
  • 62% of patients reported a reduced need for daily corticosteroid intake, from a mean dosage of 5.3mg/day of prednisone to 3.1mg/day (p=0.038)
  • 32% of patients reported stopping concurrent NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) treatment altogether following the exercise programme (p=0.083)
  • Mean LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol increased from 90mg/dl to 125mg/dl (p=0.018)
  • 40% improvement in the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS), a self-reported assessment of negative emotional states, with 28% in the depression and 48% in the anxiety component respectively (p=0.078)

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