Purpose of review: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis benefit from long-term moderate or high-intensity exercises. Moderate or high-intensity exercises were found to improve aerobic capacity, muscle strength, functional ability, and psychological well-being, and slow the age-related and sex-related decrease in bone mineral density of the hip. Despite these positive findings, there is also concern about its risks. Studies on the effects of exercise on disease activity and joint damage are reviewed.
Recent findings: Studies on the effects of moderate or high-intensity exercise in rheumatoid arthritis demonstrate either decreased or stable disease activity. From the few available studies that address exercise and radiologic progression of the small joints, results indicate that exercises are safe for the joints of hands and feet. However, a recent study suggests caution in prescribing long-term high-intensity weight-bearing exercises to patients who have significant radiologic damage of large joints, as some patients might develop additional damage.
Summary: Moderate or high-intensity weight-bearing exercises are safe with respect to disease activity and radiologic damage of the hands and feet. In the absence of sufficient data on exercise and radiologic progression of the large joints, patients with significant radiologic damage of the large joints should not be encouraged to participate in moderate to high-intensity weight-bearing exercise unless individualized to protect affected joints. A broader dissemination of the effectiveness and safety of moderate and high-intensity exercise for patients with rheumatoid arthritis is needed among rheumatologists, physical therapists, and patients.