Exploring women’s arthritis issues and needs

Exercise to protect against rheumatoid arthritis

Heart Shaped Bike RackResearchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm say that exercise and physical activity may protect against the development of rheumatoid arthritis in women. The researchers studied 30,112 women enrolled in the Swedish Mammography Cohort who responded to a questionnaire in 1997 regarding physical activity. Participants were asked questions that assess daily energy use at home and wok and during leisure time. Researchers calculated the metabolic equivalent score based on duration, intensity and inactivity.

According to the research findings, 201 out of 30,112 women developed rheumatoid arthritis (RA) during the average follow-up time of 7.5 years, totalling 226, 477 person-years. Other findings include:

  • The women who developed RA expended less energy per week;
  • Women who spent more hours performing home or household chore had a 35% decreased risk of developing RA;
  • Women who spent 2 hours or more per week exercising had a 20% decreased; and,
  • Women who were inactive during their leisure time had a 27% increased risk for developing RA.

In 2004, a follow-up was conducted and researchers found that the risk of developing RA was 42% lower for the women who expended the most energy per week. Researchers concluded, “Women who expended the least amount of energy per week were older, had less education, had a higher BMI, were more likely to be active smokers but less likely to drink alcohol. Only 7% of women in the cohort walked more than 1.5 hours per day.

One type of exercise that can be included in your arthritis treatment plan is low-impact exercises like walking, bicycling, yoga, tai chi, Pilates, low-impact aerobics, swimming, and water aerobics. Low-impact exercise decreases stress levels and helps to improve the way you feel. When you are not experiencing acute joint inflammation, include weights in your exercise plan. This type of exercise lubricates joints and helps control joint swelling and pain. It also strengthens muscles, which improves your endurance and mobility. To get the best effect, work with a physiotherapist or fitness trainer with arthritis training.