Patients with rheumatism are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease due to changes in their blood vessels. Regular physical activity has an important preventive effect.

Although it is not always obvious due to functional limitations and pain, people with rheumatism should strive to be physically active “like everyone else”, following the basic recommendation: 150 minutes per week of moderate or vigorous intensity exercise.

Beyond the benefits for the whole body, the goal is more specifically to improve the functioning of blood vessels, altered by the inflammatory process associated with rheumatism. A Brazilian team (University of Sao Paulo) analyzed the data collected in the framework of a dozen studies, which focused in particular on so-called autoimmune rheumatism. We are talking about diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, spondylitis or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

In these conditions, the antibodies attack the body’s own tissues, especially connective tissue, the structure that helps support and protect joints, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. Most autoimmune rheumatic diseases increase the risk of developing deposits (plaques) in the arteries, with a hardening process (rigidity): this is atherosclerosis, a major risk factor for cardio accident (heart attack, etc.) ) and cerebrovascular accident (stroke).

The meta-analysis carried out by Brazilian researchers focused on exercises of various types: classic or stationary cycling, brisk walking outdoors or on a treadmill, weight training sessions, etc. On average, these physical activity programs were spread over three month. The overall result shows “significant improvements” in vascular function (including the ability to dilate vessels and blood flow). Aerobic activities (walking, cycling …) induce convincing benefits, although for an even more favorable result, they should be accompanied by strength exercises.

“Overall, the available clinical studies demonstrate a beneficial effect of physical activity on markers of vascular function. This significant impact argues that physical activity must be part of the non-drug management of these patients,” the researcher conclude.

Nate Douglas

Nate has worked as a nutritionist for over 14 years. He holds a Master's Degree in dietetics from the University of Texas. His passions include working out, traveling and podcasting.