Background: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has been known to be associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of Tai Chi exercise on CVD risk in elderly women with RA.
Method: In total, 56 female patients with RA were assigned to either a Tai Chi exercise group (29 patients) receiving a 3-month exercise intervention once a week or a control group (27 patients) receiving general information about the benefits of exercise. All participants were assessed at baseline and at 3 months for RA disease activity (Disease Activity Score 28 and Routine Assessment of Patient Index Data 3), functional disability (Health Assessment Questionnaire), CVD risk factors (blood pressure, lipids profile, body composition, and smoking), and three atherosclerotic measurements: carotid intima-media thickness, flow-mediated dilatation (FMD), and brachial-ankle pulse wave velocity (baPWV).
Results: FMD, representative of endothelial function, significantly increased in the Tai Chi exercise group (initial 5.85 ± 2.05 versus 3 months 7.75 ± 2.53%) compared with the control group (initial 6.31 ± 2.12 versus 3 months 5.78 ± 2.13%) (P = 1.76 × 10(-3)). Moreover, baPWV, representative of arterial stiffness, significantly decreased in the Tai Chi exercise group (initial 1693.7 ± 348.3 versus 3 months 1600.1 ± 291.0 cm/s) compared with the control group (initial 1740.3 ± 185.3 versus 3 months 1792.8 ± 326.1 cm/s) (P = 1.57 × 10(-2)). In addition, total cholesterol decreased significantly in the Tai Chi exercise group compared with the control group (-7.8 ± 15.5 versus 2.9 ± 12.2 mg/dl, P = 2.72 × 10(-2)); other changes in RA-related characteristics were not significantly different between the two groups. Tai Chi exercise remained significantly associated with improved endothelial function (FMD; P = 4.32 × 10(-3)) and arterial stiffness (baPWV; P = 2.22 × 10(-2)) after adjustment for improvement in total cholesterol level.
Conclusion: Tai Chi exercise improved endothelial dysfunction and arterial stiffness in elderly women with RA, suggesting that it can be a useful behavioral strategy for CVD prevention in patients with RA.