To investigate the association between physical activity, functional activity of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and subclinical cardiovascular disease in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).


A total of 242 SLE patients (all women) participated in this cross-sectional study from February 2004 to February 2008. Carotid plaque and intima-media thickness (IMT), antioxidant function of HDL, and traditional cardiac risk factors were measured. Physical activity was assessed from self-reports by calculating the metabolic equivalents (METS) per week and by the physical function domain of the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form 36 (SF-36). Data were analyzed using bivariate and multivariate regression analyses.


Number of METS per week spent performing strenuous exercise was negatively correlated with IMT (r = −0.4, P = 0.002) and number of plaques (r = −0.30, P = 0.0001). Physical function as assessed by the SF-36 was also negatively correlated with IMT (r = −0.14, P = 0.03) and number of plaques (r = −0.14, P = 0.04). In multivariate analyses, number of strenuous exercise METS was significantly associated with IMT (t = −2.2, P = 0.028) and number of plaques (t = −2.5, P = 0.014) when controlling for markers of SLE disease activity and damage, but not after controlling for traditional cardiac risk factors. Low physical activity, defined as <225 total METS per week, was associated with the presence of proinflammatory HDL (P = 0.03).


Low physical activity is associated with increased subclinical atherosclerosis and proinflammatory HDL in patients with SLE. Increased strenuous exercise may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis in SLE.