Why Exercise Can Be So Draining for People With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Their nerves seemed especially sensitive to the buildup of certain substances in the working muscles, the researchers concluded, which prompted the nerves to send urgent messages to nearby blood vessels, ordering them to contract. The result was lingering high blood pressure, during and after the workout.

These reactions were most marked among the rheumatoid arthritis patients with the highest levels of inflammatory activity in their blood before the exercise, the researchers found.

Taken as a whole, the findings indicate that physical activity can be extra difficult for people with rheumatoid arthritis, because their nervous systems may overreact to relatively minor changes inside the muscles.

But the findings do not suggest that those with the autoimmune disorder should avoid exercise, Dr. Roschel says. “Physical activity is highly recommended for people with R.A,” he points out. “But these individuals may require additional attention and support to engage in physical activity programs.”

If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, talk with your physician or an exercise physiologist about how best to exercise, he says. And if you begin a new routine, start slowly and perhaps keep a log of how you feel during workouts.

Of course, this study focused on older women with rheumatoid arthritis and a single session of very light resistance training. It is unknown whether the results apply equally to younger women or men with the condition, or whether other types of exercise, such as walking, may produce a similar response. It is also unknown how those with different autoimmune diseases or related conditions might be affected.

Dr. Roschel and his colleagues are looking into all of those questions, though. “We have also been conducting some exercise studies with patients who have recovered from Covid-19 in our lab, and they also present abnormal cardiorespiratory responses to exercise,” he says. They hope to publish additional studies soon.

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