Study links physical inactivity levels with higher pain scores, depression rates in RA patients

Over the past few decades, regular physical exercise has been recognized as an important component of RA management, and the benefits include reduced inflammation and pain, and improved muscle force, aerobic capacity, and quality of life. “However, the proportion of elderly adhering to the proposed physical activity guidelines is only 27% to 44%. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Rheumatology, physical inactivity and obesity are associated with high pain scores, depression, poor sleep, and fatigue in patients with rheumatic diseases.

The cross-sectional analysis, conducted using data from FORWARD and the National Databank (NDB) for Rheumatic Diseases adults, involved 3,343 subjects (≥65 years or older) with rheumatic disease. The corresponding proportion of subjects noted with vigorous and moderate physical activities were 468 (14%) and 1,799 (54%) respectively. Overall physical activity level reported by participants was a median of 7 days of moderate to vigorous for 30 min or more per month. Obese subjects demonstrated an increased likelihood to report low levels of activity compared to non-obese individuals (44% vs. 25%). Higher pain scores, higher (HAQ-DI scores, higher depression rates, and worse PROMIS29 scores related to pain, sleep, and fatigue were also noted in subjects with low physical activity levels.

A cross-sectional international study conducted in 21 countries by Sokka et al. has also observed physical inactivity in a majority of the RA patients and the corresponding percentages noted were >80% in 7 countries, 60-80% in 12 countries, and 45%- 29% in 2 countries. The researchers have also noted that reduced physical inactivity was linked to female gender, older age, lower education, obesity, comorbidity, low functional capacity, pain, fatigue,e, and higher disease activity levels,

The current findings underscore the significance of rheumatology providers to counsel patients on the importance of physical activity. It is also important to encourage the patients to use newer technology-based strategies such as fitness and activity trackers to promote and sustain physical activities among the elderly.


  1. Kumthekar A, Pedro S, Michaud K, Ozen G, Katz P, Baker J, Ogdie A. Physical activity habits among older adults living with rheumatic disease. J Rheumatol. 2023 Jan 15:jrheum.211244.


  1. Sokka T, Häkkinen A, Kautiainen H et al. Physical inactivity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: data from twenty-one countries in a cross-sectional, international study. Arthritis Rheum. 2008 Jan 15;59(1):42-50.