Photo of a Black senior citizen woman in a workout tank top going for a power walk in a park
Credit: iStock/Courtney Hale

We get it: If you have inflammatory arthritis, exercising more often might not seem doable. You might have even wondered if exercise could make your condition worse. Some new research may help address some of these concerns and encourage you to find activities that feel feasible for your level of pain, fatigue, and other symptoms.

For many years rheumatologists have said that physical activity — especially the low-impact kind (like walking, yoga, or swimming) — generally helps ease arthritis-related pain, stiffness, and mobility problems. Now there’s a robust body of research to back that up.

In a new comprehensive literature review, published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, researchers from Sweden summarized findings of 55 previous randomized clinical trials that examined the relationship between physical activity and quality of life in inflammatory arthritis patients.

They conducted a thorough meta-analysis of 37 of these trials, most of which pertained to people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), though they also looked at a number of studies that involved people with spondyloarthritis (SpA).

Their conclusion: Inflammatory arthritis patients who are physically active tend to enjoy a better quality of life compared to those who are sedentary.

“The largest number of studies were on RA, where the results showed that any type of [physical activity] led to improved [quality of life] compared to inactive controls,” the researchers wrote. They noted that patients who were active usually had less pain, less fatigue, and lower disease activity compared to their inactive counterparts.

For people with SpA, physical activity was associated with similar benefits, as well as mental health perks (such as lower incidence of anxiety and depression).

The authors pointed out that the sample size of most of the studies they analyzed was small and that they were not able to measure the long-term impact of physical activity on inflammatory arthritis. Still, they explained that the existing evidence overwhelming points to activity being helpful for inflammatory arthritis, especially RA and SpA.

If you’re worried that you’re not up for an intense workout, relax: Physical activity includes structured exercise (gym classes, walking on a treadmill) as well as playing with kids, doing household chores, lifting groceries, and walking around town as you do errands.

Most health experts recommend that everyone — including those with inflammatory arthritis — engage in moderate aerobic activity at least 150 minutes per week and also do some strength-training and endurance-training.

Talk to your rheumatologist, a physical therapist, or a certified personal trainer if you need help determining which activities and routines are safe and practical for you.

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Björk M, et al. Inflammatory Arthritis and the Effect of Physical Activity on Quality of Life and Self-reported Function: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis – The ENHANCE Study. Arthritis Research & Care. October 2021. doi:

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