Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients were reassessed for body composition and physical function mean ± SD 39 ± 6 months after commencing a randomized controlled trial involving 24 weeks of either high-intensity progressive resistance training (PRT) or low-intensity range of movement exercise (control) to determine whether the benefits of PRT (i.e., reduced fat mass [FM], increased lean mass [LM], and improved function) were retained.
Nine PRT and 9 control subjects were reassessed for body composition (dual x-ray absorptiometry) and function (knee extensor strength, chair test, arm curl test, 50-foot walk) approximately 3 years after resuming normal activity following the exercise intervention.
At followup, PRT subjects remained significantly leaner than control subjects (P = 0.03), who conversely had accumulated considerable FM during the study period (approximately −1.0 kg versus +2.4 kg, PRT versus controls). PRT subjects also retained most of the improvement in walking speed gained from training (P = 0.03 versus controls at followup). In contrast, the PRT-induced gains in LM and strength-related function were completely lost. Data from the controls suggest that established and stable RA patients have similar rates of LM loss but elevated rates of FM accretion relative to age-matched sedentary non-RA controls.
We found that long-term resumption of normal activity resulted in loss of PRT-induced improvements in LM and strength-related function, but substantial retention of the benefits in FM reduction and walking ability. The relatively long-term benefit of reduced adiposity, in particular, is likely to be clinically significant, as obesity is very prevalent among RA patients and is associated with their disability and exacerbated cardiovascular disease risk.