Objective: To determine the effect of a low load resistance exercise training program on muscle strength, functional outcome, and cardiovascular endurance.
Methods: Forty-nine patients, 37 women and 12 men between the ages of 35-76 yrs (mean 60.5 yrs), with definite rheumatoid arthritis (RA) functional class II and III (mean disease duration of 10.5 yrs) were randomly assigned to exercise and control groups for a 12 wk resistive muscle training program. A circuit weight bearing form of training was incorporated using light loads with high repetitions. A video tape demonstrating the exercises was given to all exercising participants to enable them to continue the program at home at least 3 times per wk with a biweekly self-report evaluation. Baseline and post-intervention evaluations included joint activity, muscle strength, endurance, functional outcome, and self-report. Cardiovascular fitness measured by treadmill time, anaerobic threshold and peak oxygen consumption (VO2) in this group were assessed at baseline and 12 wks.
Results: A significant improvement at 12 wks was noted in the exercise group for self-reported joint count (p = 0.02), number of painful joints (p = 0.004), HAQ (p = 0.012), sit-to-stand time (p = 0.02), grip strength (p = 0.05) knee extension 60 degrees (p = 0.03), Arthritis Impact Measurement Scales dexterity (p = 0.02), and time to anaerobic threshold (p = 0.03). Significant improvement in the exercise group compared to the control group was noted for self-reported joint count (p = 0.02), night time pain (p = 0.05), and sit-to-stand time (p = 0.02). Increase in treadmill time was not statistically significant nor was a change in peak oxygen consumption (VO2) noted. Abnormalities on initial treadmill screening were detected in 2 of 49 asymptomatic patients. They were excluded from the study and subsequent workup revealed significant coronary artery disease.
Conclusion: Low load resistive muscle training increased functional capacity as reported by patients and is a clinically safe form of exercise in functional class II and III RA. Screening this population for dormant coronary artery disease is recommended.