The ACR estimates nearly 1.3 million adults in the U.S. are diagnosed with RA, a chronic autoimmune condition characterized by systemic joint inflammation that can damage joints, impair function, and cause significant disability. Until the early 1980s, medical experts recommended medication and rest for those with arthritis. However, current medical evidence now suggests that regular, moderate physical activity benefits arthritis sufferers by maintaining joint flexibility, improving balance, strengthening muscles, and reducing pain.
"While there is much evidence of the benefits of physical activity, RA patients are generally not physically active, and physicians often do not encourage regular physical activity in this patient population," explains Dr. Jungwha Lee, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. "Our study aims to expand understanding of the risk factors associated with inactivity among adults with RA and encourage clinical interventions that promote participation in physical activity."
Dr. Lee and colleagues analyzed data on 176 RA patients, 18 years of age or older enrolled in a randomized controlled trial to assess the effectiveness of an intervention promoting physical activity. The team evaluated pre-intervention data for inactivity which was defined as no sustained 10-minute periods of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during a week. Researchers also assessed the relationships between inactivity and modifiable risk factors such as motivation for physical activity, obesity, and pain.
Results show that 42% of RA patients were inactive; participating in no moderate-to-vigorous physical activity periods of at least ten minutes during a 7-day period of objective activity monitoring. Researchers found that 53% of study participants lacked strong motivation for physical activity and 49% lacked strong beliefs in the benefits of physical activity. These two modifiable risk factors account for 65% of excess inactivity in this study group.
While previous research relied on self-reported physical activity measures, the strength of the current study lies in the use of accelerometers a device used to measure acceleration and movement to objectively assess physical activity in participants. "Physical inactivity among RA patients is a public health concern," concludes Dr. Lee. "Our results suggest that public health initiatives need to address the lack of motivation to exercise and promote the benefits of physical activity to reduce the prevalence of inactivity in those with RA."