Autoimmune disorders, physical activity, and training, with particular reference to rheumatoid arthritis

Exerc Immunol Rev. 1997;3:53-67.


Rheumatoid arthritis arises from a reaction of the immune system to normal body components, sometimes triggered by bacterial or viral infection. The synovia of affected joints are infiltrated by CD4+, CD19-, and plasma cells. The synovial fluid shows a sterile inflammation, with high neutrophil counts and increased concentrations of proinflammatory cytokines (particularly IL-1, IL-8, TNF-alpha and JFN-gamma). The plasma shows increased CD4+ counts and a pro-inflammatory shift in T cell populations with high titers of rheumatoid factors. Traditional treatment has included rest of the affected part, which can cause a reduction of physical condition. However, exercise induces changes in circulating immune function (including a decrease of CD4+ count) that would appear helpful in regulating inflammation. Further, there is evidence that patients can tolerate a program of regular moderate aerobic exercise. Moreover, empirical data suggest that such a prescription substantially enhances physical performance, without exacerbating either clinical or immunological markers of the disease process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Experimental / therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / blood
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy
  • Autoimmune Diseases / blood
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / therapy
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cytokines / physiology
  • Exercise
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Lymphocyte Count
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*


  • Cytokines