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Pedometers May Be a Step in the Right Direction for RA Patients

People with rheumatoid arthritis who wear fitness trackers may be more active and less fatigued — even if they aren't actively tracking their steps.

rheumatoid arthritis

When it comes to rheumatoid arthritis (RA), taking any steps can be painful.

But a new study shows that taking those steps while wearing a pedometer can be beneficial for symptom management.

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In fact, fitness trackers can help people with RA, whether or not they choose to set specific goals or track the number of steps they take each day.

Researchers in the study concluded that the act of simply wearing a pedometer can motivate people with RA to keep moving and stay active.

The researchers said that perhaps the most telling result in their study was a reduction in patient fatigue.

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This may prove to be of interest to RA patients and rheumatologists alike, as fatigue is one of the most difficult RA symptoms to treat.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, up to 98 percent of people with RA report fatigue as a symptom.

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Read more: Green tea may help ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms »

On the move

The latest study followed 96 participants. All but eight finished the 21-week assessment.

The findings were published in the Arthritis Care & Research medical journal.

It found that providing pedometers to people with RA, without providing step targets, successfully increased activity while also diminishing fatigue.

The notion of exercise as a way to mitigate RA pain and fatigue isn’t new.

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In fact, the Arthritis Foundation has run campaigns with slogans like Let’s Move Together.

They also formerly partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a campaign called Get Moving America.

While rheumatologists used to dissuade patients from exercise, now they encourage light activity such as water aerobics, tai chi, chair yoga, resistance band training, and walking.

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Read more: Stem cell therapy a possible treatment for rheumatoid arthritis »

Pedometers may be the next step

But pedometers may be the next recommendation they make.

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A 2011 study found that activity — in the form of aerobic and resistance exercise training — was key in fatigue reduction and management.

The latest study encouraged the intervention of pedometers to encourage movement of any kind in any quantity.

A review of studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that people — with or without a medical issue —  who wore a fitness tracker or pedometer to record their steps increased their step count by at least 27 percent per day.

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This may be worth considering.

With heart disease and muscle cachexia being closely linked to RA, perhaps the next prescription someone with RA should fill is that of a pedometer.

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“Because rheumatoid arthritis medications have only small effects on fatigue, it's important for patients to have other ways to manage their fatigue,” said Patricia Katz, PhD, who was the lead author of the recent Arthritis Care & Research study. “These results suggest that something as simple as increasing physical activity by walking can help.”

“This relatively simple intervention helped a very sedentary group of rheumatoid arthritis patients increase their activity at a level that is considered clinically significant,” Lucas Carr PhD, of the University of Iowa, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Channel News Asia. “The largest health benefits are realized when an individual changes from doing nothing to doing something.”

“Overall, this study further confirms the importance of physical activity for people with RA,” concluded Katz. “Not only does it help to reduce fatigue — as shown in this study — it may improve mood, help a patient maintain a healthy weight, improve cardiovascular risk factors, and improve overall functioning.” 

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