Objective: To investigate associations between physical activity and risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), subclinical atherosclerosis, and disease activity in patients with early and long-standing rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Method: This cross-sectional study included 84 patients with early and 37 with long-standing RA (disease duration, mean ± sd: 1.4 ± 0.4 and 16.3 ± 2.3 years, respectively). Physical activity was measured using a combined accelerometer and heart-rate monitor. Further assessments were disease activity (erythrocyte sedimentation rate, Disease Activity Score in 28 joints), functional ability (Health Assessment Questionnaire), risk factors for CVD (blood lipids, i.e. triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein, low-density lipoprotein; blood glucose, blood pressure, sleeping heart rate, waist circumference, body mass index, and body fat), and subclinical atherosclerosis (pulse-wave velocity, augmentation index, and carotid intima–media thickness).
Results: Physical activity variables did not differ between patients with early and long-standing RA. However, 37% of the patients with early and 43% of those with long-standing RA did not reach the World Health Organization’s recommended levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). In a final multiple regression model, adjusted for age, gender, disease duration, and activity monitor wear time, higher total physical activity was associated with lower body fat and higher functional ability. With the same adjustments, more time spent in MVPA was associated with lower high-density lipoprotein and lower sleeping heart rate.
Conclusions: Physical activity was associated with more favourable risk factors for CVD. However, many patients were physically inactive, stressing the importance of promoting physical activity in RA.