Aerobic Exercise Safe and Effective for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients


Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease characterized in part by swollen and painful joints, fatigue and general malaise. While most people with the condition do not feel much like exercising, research shows that cardiorespiratory aerobic exercise is safe and effective for patients with stable rheumatoid arthritis (RA). When RA patients exercise regularly, they have improved function, less joint pain, and greater quality of life.

Researchers from the University of Grenoble Medical School in France conducted an abstract search of relative medical journals for studies that researched RA patients and their exercise habits. The team analyzed 15 studies that included a total of 1040 patients.

They found that RA patients who exercise report less joint pain and stiffness and increased joint mobility. They also have improved function due to greater muscular strength and less feelings of fatigue. Regular exercise can also reduce the risk of other health problems that accompany rheumatoid arthritis, such as heart disease or diabetes.

Regular aerobic exercise also improve feelings of well-being and an improved ability to cope with problems.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects up to 1% of the global population, according to data from the World Health Organization. The CDC found that RA patients were 40% more likely to report poor to fair general health. Because they are twice as likely to have a health-related activity limitation compared to those without the condition, many avoid exercise.


Before beginning an exercise program, it is important to talk with your doctor about any specific limitations you may have. Ideally, the exercise program you adopt will include stretching exercises to keep muscles flexible and joints moving freely, strengthening exercises to make muscles stronger so they can better support your joints, and aerobic exercises to strengthen the heart and lungs.

A physical therapist may be helpful in designing the most appropriate exercise for your abilities. There are also community exercise programs designed just for people with arthritis. People with Arthritis Can Exercise (PACE) and the Arthritis Self Help Course (ASHC) are offered by the Arthritis Foundation (

The American College of Rheumatology currently recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise each week. Especially if you are new to exercise, start slowly and work your way up to 20 to 30 minutes a day on as many days as you can. The best and most safe forms include walking, low-impact aerobic dance, and aquatic exercise.

Doctors previously recommended the avoidance of high intensity exercises such as jogging and heavy weight lifting, but new research shows that if you are able to participate, these can be beneficial. Dr. Zuzana de Jong PhD, rheumatologist and researcher at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands says that people who participate in high-intensity exercise at least twice a week improved in daily functioning and mood.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to do as much as you are able and pay attention to your body. If a particular joint is actively inflamed, give that joint a rest and do another form of exercise or modify the exercise so it does not harm the already-damaged joint.

Source: "Efficacy of Cardiorespiratory Aerobic Exercise in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials." Athan Baillet, Nadine Zeboulon, Laure Gossec, Christophe Combescure, Louis-Antoine Bodin, Robert Juvin, Maxime Dougados, and Philippe Gaudin. Arthritis Care and Research; Published Online: February 23, 2010 (DOI: 10.1002/acr.20146); Print Issue Date: July 2010