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High intensity training can ease arthritis pain

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Patients with arthritis may benefit from high intensity training, according to a Norwegian study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.

It´s already known that keeping active can help reduce and prevent arthritis pain, but this new research goes one step further, investigating the benefits of ten weeks of high intensity interval training.

Previous studies have shown that moderate intensity work-out sessions can help improve endurance without inducing pain or inflammation, or damaging joints, explained Anja Bye, a researcher at the K. G. Jebsen Centre for Exercise in Medicine – Cardiac Exercise Research Group (CERG) at Norway´s NTNU.

Numerous studies also show that high intensity interval training is much more effective for improving cardiovascular endurance than moderate intensity training, Bye pointed out.

“This is true regardless if you´re sick or healthy, young or old. We wanted to see if patients with arthritis could handle high intensity training and see the same positive effects.”

The pilot study involved 18 women with rheumatoid arthritis or adult juvenile idiopathic arthritis (adult-JIA). The women, aged 20-49, followed a ten-week programme of high intensity interval training which took the form of four repetitions of high intensity (85-95% of max pulse) four-minute intervals on an exercise bike. The break between each interval was about three minutes, at 70% of max pulse. Each work-out session lasted about 35 minutes.

Despite this rigorous high intensity exercise, the study participants showed no adverse effects.

“Rather, we saw a tendency for there to be less inflammation, at least as measured by the inflammation marker CRP, and the participants of the study experienced a solid increase maximum oxygen intake, meaning that they reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease,” Bye said.

The small size of the pilot study means that it is too early to determine whether recommended training programmes for arthritis patients should be changed. But the researchers said that high intensity interval training “seems like a promising non-pharmacological treatment strategy for patients with RA and adult-JIA.”

Welcoming the findings of the Norwegian study, a spokeswoman for Arthritis Research UK said: “Our research has also shown that supervised sessions of resistance training in people with rheumatoid arthritis helps to build muscle, lose fat and increase function in those who are sufficiently motivated to keep it up regularly.”