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Less Pain, More Energy Among Benefits of Physical Activity for People With Inflammatory Arthritis

Posted on November 30, 2021
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Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Maureen McNulty

  • By combining data from 55 clinical trials, researchers have concluded that physical activity could improve function and quality of life for people with different types of inflammatory arthritis, including psoriatic arthritis (PsA).
  • Aerobic exercise and strength training can yield benefits for people with inflammatory arthritis, such as reduced pain and fatigue and better mental and activity performance.
  • Researchers found very few studies specifically looking at the effects of physical activity on PsA, but past research supports their conclusion that people with PsA can benefit from exercise.

People living with inflammatory arthritis — including psoriatic arthritis — may be able to reduce joint pain, increase their energy, sharpen their minds, and improve their quality of life by engaging in higher levels of physical activity. These finds come from a new study published in Arthritis Care & Research.

“Summarized evidence shows that physical activity can lead to less pain, fatigue, and improved mental and activity performance in inflammatory arthritis,” the report concluded.

Inflammatory arthritis encompasses a group of diseases in which a person’s immune system is overactive, leading to inflammation and pain in the joints. This group of conditions includes PsA as well as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and spondyloarthritis (SpA).

Barriers to Exercise With PsA

People with inflammatory arthritis tend to get less physical activity than people without the conditions. In one recent survey, 60 percent of people living with inflammatory arthritis were categorized as “inactive.”

Among barriers to regular exercise, they cited finances, pain, fatigue, and fear of worsening their condition. People with inflammatory arthritis are also more likely to have a reduced quality of life — in addition to other health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Cardio and Strength Training Both Show Benefits for Arthritis

Several past clinical trials have looked at the effects of exercise in people with RA, SpA, or PsA. In the current study, researchers found 55 published trials that measured function (how a person can physically move and carry out daily tasks) and quality of life (how healthy and comfortable a person feels). These studies measured one or both of the main types of physical activity:

  • Cardiorespiratory (aerobic) exercise — Exercise that increases heart rate and breathing rate, such as walking, jogging, or swimming
  • Strength training — Exercise that strengthens muscles, such as lifting weights or bodyweight exercises (push-ups, sit-ups, squats, etc.)

When the study authors combined information from all of these clinical trials, they found that all types of exercise led to better physical function and improved quality of life for people with inflammatory arthritis.

Notably, most of the studies that researchers found which met their criteria focused on RA and SpA. Only one examined physical activity’s effects on PsA. The researchers believed that exercise likely affected different types of inflammatory arthritis in similar ways, but noted that additional studies focusing on PsA were needed.

Past research, however, does support researchers' beliefs that physical activity is beneficial for people with PsA. A study released in April of this year, analyzing 13 previous studies on physical activity and PsA, found that “physical activity has beneficial effects on disease activity, well-being and reduced some cardiovascular risk factor in psoriatic arthritis.”

Learn more about stretching and exercise for PsA.

Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Maureen McNulty studied molecular genetics and English at Ohio State University. Learn more about her here.

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