Benefits of exercise in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized controlled trial of a patient-specific exercise programme

Clin Rheumatol. 2020 Jun;39(6):1783-1792. doi: 10.1007/s10067-020-04937-4. Epub 2020 Feb 8.


Background: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) tend to be more overweight, take less physical exercise, exhibit decreased cardiorespiratory fitness and demonstrate reduced muscle strength compared with age- and sex-matched controls. Impaired cognitive function in RA is an important associated factor, although it has been less well-recognized. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of a specifically designed exercise programme on body composition, aerobic capacity, muscle strength and cognition in RA.

Methods: Sixty-six patients with RA were randomized to a specifically designed, personalized exercise programme or standard care. Assessments included body composition, fitness, grip strength and cognitive testing, in addition to disease related measures.

Results: Significant improvements in C-reactive protein (p = 0.025), fatigue scores (p = 0.047) and truncal fat (p = 0.004) were observed in the exercise group compared with controls. Median waist circumference was significantly reduced (94.0 to 91.4 cm, p < 0.0001). Improvements were also seen in aerobic capacity (23.2 to 27.6 ml/kg/min, p = 0.002) and in median right (12.0 to 13.0 kg, p = 0.025) and left grip strength (8.0 to 10 kg, p = 0.005). Cognitive function improved in the exercise group, with median Montreal Cognitive Assessment score 25.5 at 0 months compared to 28.0 at 3 months (p = 0.001).

Conclusion: This study demonstrates that exercise has a significant and positive impact on cognitive function in RA. Furthermore, physical activity is safe and effective in chronic inflammatory joint disease and is recommended as a vital component in the holistic management of these patients.Key Points• A dedicated physical exercise programme is feasible and safe in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).• Physical exercise helps reduce fatigue scores and improves cardiovascular fitness in stable RA patients.• Physical exercise has a positive impact on cognition in patients with RA.• A structured exercise programme should be an integral part of chronic disease management protocols for patients with RA.

Keywords: Cognition; Exercise Programme; Rheumatoid arthritis.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / blood
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Body Composition
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis
  • Cardiorespiratory Fitness*
  • Cognition
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Exercise Tolerance
  • Fatigue / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Strength
  • Quality of Life


  • C-Reactive Protein