Rheumatoid Arthritis and sports

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that affects about 1% of the population. Many recent studies have shown how physical exercise can bring significant benefits. However, its programming is of crucial importance. Let’s see some tips.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic and progressive inflammatory autoimmune disease that leads to joint degeneration and affects about 1% of the adult population, especially women (female / male ratio 3: 1) and mostly in the age group 40-60 years.

The typical non-modifiable predisposing factors to RA are genetics, (female) sex and hormonal factors, while environmental factors are cigarette smoking, socioeconomic factors, infectious agents, and obesity. On the contrary, among the protective factors we find the Mediterranean diet and in general a food pattern rich in fish, vegetable oils and vegetables.

One of the most controversial aspects of the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis is physical activity and sport. Although exercise may seem like a wrong indication for RA sufferers, many studies have observed a great benefit from movement. A Portuguese analysis showed that a 3-month program that included a combination of aerobic and strengthening exercises, conducted for 50-60 minutes three times a week, resulted in psychophysical benefits for patients with RA, stabilizing the progression of the disease. 33% had an improvement in physical mobility and in the ability to eat, dress and walk alone. Furthermore, 62% of patients reported a reduction in anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving treatments, while 32% had completely stopped drug therapy. In addition, 40% of patients showed an improvement in states of anxiety and depression.

How to choose the most suitable physical activity in a patient with RA?

  • The first rule is “personalization“. Each individual has his own characteristics and what is good for one is not necessarily the same for another;
  • Avoid any activity that involves intense and / or prolonged overload on the joint that is inflamed;
  • Avoid repeated and / or intense loads at the level of the joints that show damage, even when not inflamed;
  • Select the activity to be carried out bearing in mind that it might weigh particularly on specific joints;
  • In case of worsening of symptoms, temporarily suspend physical activity, waiting for the problem to return physiologically, avoiding the use of painkillers and anti-inflammatories to resume sports.

Although severe pain and fatigue lead the subject to prefer a sedentary lifestyle, regular and controlled aerobic work combined with strengthening exercises can be extremely beneficial, reducing bone loss, toning muscles, keeping joints functioning and helping to control pain. The advice that, as always, we would like to give is to plan your physical-sporting activity with a specialist, so as to maximize the positive effects on your health and avoid further damage to the joints involved.

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