Northwestern study finds rheumatoid arthritis patients not exercising enough

Daniel Schlessinger

Although exercise for patients with rheumatoid arthritis is essential, a new study led by a Northwestern researcher found people with this condition are often completely inactive.

The study, which looked at 176 patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, used advanced statistical tests to determine the most common risk factors associated with lack of physical activity. Researchers placed accelerometers – the same technology that measures orientation on an iPhone – on participants to determine how much exercise they received each week and found many patients failed to exercise.

The research team, which was led by Feinberg School of Medicine Assistant Prof. Jungwha Lee, found only 12 percent of patients received the recommended amount of physical activity each week, and 42 percent did not receive any physical activity at all.

“The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous activity per week in bouts lasting at least 10 minutes,” Lee said. “It seems that the word has not been spread for the patients and the health care providers.”

In patients with rheumatoid arthritis, which affects about 1.3 million Americans, the body’s immune system malfunctions and allows viruses and bacteria to attack the lining between joints. Moderate physical activity can reduce weariness and help grow the bones and muscles, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Researchers found the most important risk factors for lack of physical activity were lack of motivation for, and lack of positive beliefs about, physical activity. These were both more strongly correlated with the lack of physical activity than other factors such as obesity or joint pain, according to the study.

The outlook for patients, the study authors noted, can be negative if patients continue to not exercise. Even in the most severly affected rheumatoid arthritis patients, physical activity is essential, Lee said.

“All we ask them is to walk briskly and be as active as possible,” Lee said. “It doesn’t have to be high impact activity, as long as you keep your body moving.”

– Daniel Schlessinger