Objective. To investigate physical fitness and work capacity in women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods. The 42 subjects were a subset of a prospective trial of conditioning exercise in rheumatic disease. Assignment to an exercise or nonexercise group was determined by proximity to the intervention, a 3-month supervised group exercise program. Physical fitness and work capacity were assessed at baseline, 3 months, and 12 months.
Results. At baseline, subjects were deconditioned and limited in hand function, lifting ability, and lower extremity mobility. Only the exercise group improved their aerobic capacity and exercise tolerance. There were no significant changes in measured work capacity in either group. Moderate to strong correlations were found between aerobic capacity. mobility, hand function, and work capacity. Grip strength was a strong and consistent correlate of work capacity.
Conclusion. Our findings suggest that physical capacity, particularly hand function, may be important in the complex phenomenon of work disability in RA.