RA and physical activity

RA and physical activity

These days we know better, but previously, people with rheumatic conditions were advised to rest. Today, however, physical activity and exercise are recommended as a major part of treatment for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

What exactly is physical activity?

Physical activity is not just what you might consider exercise. It also includes all forms of body movement that increase energy consumption. Examples include housework and gardening, walking, cycling, outdoor life and physical exertion at work and play. By the terms exercise or training, we mean physical activity that is more planned and structured. You might change into different clothes and often the purpose is to improve or maintain, for example, fitness, muscle strength, balance, coordination and mobility. (3)

Health benefits for people with RA

RA). A large number of scientific studies have been performed regarding physical activity and rheumatic diseases which show that inflammation, pain and fatigue are reduced (1, 3). But it is not only hard training which makes a difference. All physical activity is beneficial.

Physical activity provides the same health benefits for a person with RA as for the general population. And there is a long list of positive effects for both physical and mental health.

  • Improved fitness, balance and coordination 

  • Your muscles and connective tissue becomes stronger

  • Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and worry, are reduced.

  • Promotes self-esteem and body image.

  • Reduces risk of a number of diseases, such as, cardiovascular disease, stroke, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, high blood fat, obesity and obesity. (6, 4)

  • Risk factors for people with RA can be counteracted, such as stress, fatigue, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. (3)

  • A large number of studies and research have been done on physical activity and rheumatic diseases showing reduced inflammation, pain and fatigue. (7)

Everyday movement is also important

Sometimes you just don’t feel up to a sweaty spinning session or a run in the woods, and it is easy to put too much focus on what you can’t do. It is important to remember that the things you do in your everyday life, such as cleaning or walking to the bus stop, also counts as physical activity. It is at least as important. Research shows that the activities we do in our everyday lives give great results on our health. (1,2,3,5)

Beat the sedentary lifestyle by stretching your legs!

These days we sit more than ever. There’s more and more screen time, many people choose to take the car and more than every seventh adult Swede spends their leisure time sitting down. When we sitting still, the body's large muscle groups become inactive. If you sit down for too long without moving, the risk of obesity, diabetes, the risk of so-called metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death actually increases. This muscular inactivity is independent of other physical activity. It simply means that we should not sit down for too long. Even if you are going to train tonight, it is important that you get up from the desk for a little while every now and then during the day. (2)

What can I do?

There is clear evidence that exercise has positive health effects for people with RA. What we need to remember, however, is that all physical activity matters. It's not just about going to a workout. The important thing is that you find your own way of living as actively as possible in your everyday life, based on your condition, your symptoms and what you feel you can do today. Try to be physically active doing the small things and avoid sitting still for a long time. Find the things that suit you best. Maybe you could take the stairs instead of the elevator, suggest a walking meeting, walk or bike to the store, or get off at the bus stop before home. Think about what little things you could try! (2, 3)


  • Everyday activity

  • Conditioning activities

  • Strength work

  • Balance work


  • Escalators and elevators

  • Car travel (use public transport, walk or bike instead)

  • Sitting down time


  • TV watching

  • Screen time

  • Being too sedentary


  1. Demmelmaier, I., Lindkvist, Å., Nordgren, B. & Opava, C.H. (2015). "A gift from heaven" or "This was not for me". A mixed methods approach to describe experiences of participation in an outsourced physical activity program for persons with rheumatoid arthritis. Clinical Rheumatology, 3(34), ss. 429-439.   

  2. Ekblom Bak, E., Ekblom, B & Hellenius, M-L. (2010). Minskat stillasittande lika viktigt som ökad fysisk aktivitet.  Klinik och vetenskap, läkartidningen vol 9 (107) nr 9.

  3. Fysisk aktivitet i sjukdomsprevention och sjukdomsbehandling (FYSS). (2016) FYSS-kapitel: Begrepp och definitioner. http://www.fyss.se/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/FA_Begrepp-och-definitioner_FINAL_2016-12.pdf

  4. Holmqvist ME., Wedren S., Jacobsson LT., Klareskog L., Nyberg F., Rantapaa-Dahlqvist S., Alfredsson L & Askling J. (2010) Rapid increase in myocardial infarction risk following diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis amongst patients diagnosed between 1995 and 2006. J Intern Med 2010, 268(6):578–585.

  5. Nordgren, B,. Fridén, C., Demmelmaier, I,. Bergström, G & Opava, C. (2010) Long-term health-enhancing physical activity in rheumatoid arthritis - the PARA 2010 study.

  6. Statens folkhälsoinstitut (FHI) 2006. Fysisk aktivitet och folkhälsa. Rapport R 2006:13 ISSN.   

  7. George S Metsios, Antonis Stavropoulos-Kalinoglou & George D Kitas (2015) The role of exercise in the management of rheumatoid arthritis, Expert Review of Clinical Immunology, 11:10, 1121-1130, DOI: 10.1586/1744666X.2015.1067606