Posts tagged rheumatoid arthritis

High-intensity interval walk training associated with decreased disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis

A recent study has shown exciting new benefits associated with exercise for people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

image of someone on a treadmill

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease with hallmark symptoms of inflammation and resulting pain. It is a disease process (like cancer or diabetes) where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy joints. It is a relatively common disease – approximately 300,000 or 1 in 100 Canadians get it – and is often devastating to a person’s body if not treated properly.

Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina found that 10 weeks of high-intensity interval walk training was associated with decreased disease activity and improved immune function for adults with RA. High-intensity interval walk training refers to a popular form of exercise that includes short bursts of fast-paced walking at maximum effort followed by less intense recovery periods.

The study included twelve physically inactive adults over the age of 55, with a confirmed diagnosis of RA. Participants completed a 10-week program consisting of 3x 30-minute sessions a week of supervised treadmill walking. This Included a 5-minute warm up and 5-minute cool down. Within the training session, participants walked at 80-90% of their maximum effort in intervals of 60 to 90 seconds. These high-intensity intervals were followed by recovery intervals at 50-60% maximum effort. Speed and interval times varied for each person based on a cardiorespitory fitness test, but none exceeded walking pace. 

Disease activity was assessed by a rheumatologist through a count of swollen and tender joints, perceived general health and blood tests to measure inflammation. Cardiovascular fitness and immune functions were assessed using a variety of clinical and laboratory tests, as well as standardized questionnaires. At the end of the 10 weeks, the following outcomes were observed:

  • RA disease activity reduced by 38%, with a significant decrease in swollen joints, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and improved self-perceived health. An ESR blood test measures the rate at which red blood cells settle in the period of one hour, revealing inflammatory activity in the body. 
  • Improved immune functions suggesting a reduced infection risk and inflammatory potential 
  • Cardiorespitory fitness increased by 9%
  • Resting blood pressure and heart rate both reduced 

 There is a substantial amount of research on exercise and rheumatoid arthritis, but few studies have reported the actual lowering of disease activity scores. As stated by the researchers, this study suggests that,

“High intensity interval walking could be an efficient, tolerable, and highly effective intervention to augment disease activity and improve overall health in patients with RA.”

There are certain limitations to the study such as the small sample size and no control group, but the findings will hopefully encourage more research in the area. In addition, these findings add to a growing body of research on the benefits of exercise for people with arthritis. To learn more about the study, click here.


To learn more about physical activity and arthritis visit the following pages: