Committing to a physical-activity program benefits everyone, and people with rheumatoid arthritis are no exception. In fact, researchers have found that arthritis sufferers who have confidence in their ability to set and meet fitness goals tend to do just that—which in turn boosts quality of life and helps keep unpleasant side effects of the condition under control.

A study team from the Netherlands' Leiden University recruited 106 rheumatoid arthritis patients and gave them a baseline assessment on their levels of physical activity, the amount of pain they experienced as a result of their arthritis, their quality of life, and their general motivation. Six months later, the researchers met with the participants and asked them to what extent they had achieved their physical activity goals. Three-quarters of the participants said they had achieved at least 50 percent of their physical activity goals. Those who had higher levels of self efficacy, or a greater belief in their own ability to perform specific actions, tended to achieve more of their activity goals than participants with lower levels of self efficacy. The findings remained true when the researchers compared men with women and when looking at newly diagnosed patients vs. those who had been living with the disease for a decade or more.

Besides being a confidence booster, achieving fitness goals benefits rheumatoid arthritis patients in another very important way—by reducing the amount of pain and stiffness they feel and increasing their quality of life. It's well known among rheumatologists that patients who are completely sedentary tend to suffer more pronounced side effects of their condition than those who are more active.

If you have rheumatoid arthritis and are ready to set some fitness goals, it's important to be realistic. Focus on moderate exercise rather than high-intensity workouts that could worsen your condition. Learn new techniques that can help you meet your goals, including ways to stay motivated and confident. Team up with an exercise physiologist or physical therapist in order to stay injury-free. And revel in the knowledge that becoming more physically fit will enable you to keep moving and improve your fitness level to the best of your ability.


American College of Rheumatology,