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Study: Increased Physical Activity Reduces Fatigue Symptom in RA

ArthritisRheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the joints of your hands and feet, and causes painful swelling and inflammation, that can result in bone erosion and joint deformity. Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that about 50 million adults in the United States suffer from some form of arthritis and that nearly 1.5 million adults suffer from RA. However, according to Harvard Medical School experts RA does not have to be crippling and an inevitable part of growing old, as many people believe it to be. Research has resulted in better treatments and many people now age well without being affected much by the symptoms of arthritis. A new study has found that improving physical activity could be an effective tool in reducing fatigue associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Generally, the main signs and symptoms associated with RA include chronic pain, joint stiffness and swelling, low grade fever and weight loss. Unexplained tiredness is often accompanied by a feeling of weakness (which can be joint specific). This condition generally causes inflammation, which generates heat and directs blood flow to other parts of the body. As this consumes a lot of energy, it can leave the person feeling tired and weak. The new study found that increased exercise or physical activity could positively impact RA-associated fatigue.

In a presentation given at the ACR/ARHP annual meeting in San Francisco (Nov 11, 2015) Patricia Katz, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of California discussed how increased walking is beneficial for reducing the symptoms associated with RA.

Resting more is probably the opposite of what patients with RA need to do.

A total of 96 people participated in the study. The participants were divided in to three groups:

  • Group 1 – Education-only – which received only a CDC booklet which detailed about the importance of incorporating physical exercise in to their daily routine
  • Group 2 – Pedometer – which monitored their steps
  • Group 3 – Pedometer with step targets – which was challenged to increase their steps by 10 percent each week for 21 weeks

Both groups 1 and 2 received phone call follow-ups at the end of 10 weeks and 21 weeks. On the whole, the median baseline step count was 3,710, fewer than the 5,000 daily steps which is considered sedentary.

At the end of the study, Group 1 witnessed virtually no change in their number of steps, but experienced a 38 percent decrease in fatigue. Group 2 increased their steps by 87 percent and witnessed a 54 percent decrease in fatigue. Group 3 increased their steps by 159 percent and saw their fatigue fall by 48 percent.

The results indicate the significant role that physical exercise plays in improving the fatigue associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). According to the Arthritis Foundation, getting plenty of exercise is an important part of coping with RA symptoms. A systematic lifestyle with a healthy diet and regular exercise can help alleviate joint pain and stiffness, reduce weakness, enhance flexibility, improve sleep, and boost endurance. The ideal exercise program for RA is one that includes stretching, strengthening and aerobic exercises.

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