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Feel the fatigue and be active anyway, say arthritis researchers

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Over the years, countless studies have confirmed that keeping active helps relieve symptoms of arthritis. But new research shows that physical activity can also combat bouts of low mood when patients are feeling fatigued.

Put simply, the researchers said: feel the fatigue and be active anyway.

Experts at the University of Otago in New Zealand wanted to assess whether daily physical activity could have an impact on the relationship between daily fatigue and positive or negative mood in patients with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

They recruited 142 patients — 70 with rheumatoid arthritis and 72 with osteoarthritis — who completed daily diaries during four fixed time windows every day for a week. Each diary assessed the individual´s fatigue, pain, and positive and negative mood. Participants also wore pedometers throughout the day, and recorded the readings in the evenings.

Results published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research show that physical activity helped to mitigate the same-day relationship between daily fatigue and positive mood for those with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

On days when patients were feeling especially fatigued, the diaries showed a significant drop in mood. However, this impact was lessened on days when participants were more physically active.

The researchers concluded: “Being more physically active on high-fatigue days buffered the negative effect of fatigue on positive mood among adults with both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. These findings have implications for understanding the daily variations in fatigue and inform potential clinical interventions.”

Welcoming the study, a spokesperson for Arthritis Research UK explained:

“Fatigue is extreme physical and mental tiredness, and affects most people with arthritis at some point.

“We suggest using the four Ps — problem solving, planning, prioritising and pacing — to monitor what activities increase fatigue so you can save some energy for the things you enjoy. Gradually increasing the amount of physical activity or exercise you do will increase your general wellbeing, strength and energy levels.”