A 30-minute walk at a moderate intensity temporarily lowered blood pressure in women with rheumatoid arthritis, not only at rest but also under stress, according to a study. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that affects synovial joints and causes pain, swelling, and progressive physical disability.
People with rheumatoid arthritis also tend to have high blood pressure, and previous studies have shown that they have a 50 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than the general population.
BP increases in patients with rheumatoid arthritis in response to stress, physical exertion, and pain, contributing to a higher risk of cardiovascular complications of the disease. “Exercise prevents the rise in blood pressure” in women with rheumatoid arthritis, said researcher Thiago Pecanha of the University of São Paulo’s (USP) Medical School (FM-USP) in Brazil.
In a 24-hour observational experiment, the team showed that exercise lowered systolic pressure by an average of 5 mmHg.
“These reductions are significant, with a 14 percent lower risk of death from stroke, a 9 percent lower risk of death from coronary artery disease, and a 7 percent lower risk of death for people with high blood pressure.” Pecanha explained.
In the study, published in the Journal of Human Hypertension, the team analyzed 20 female volunteers aged 20 to 65 and diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and hypertension.
Women were first involved in pre-intervention measurements of blood pressure and heart rate at rest and in response to various stressors.
In the second session, a randomly selected group walked at a moderate pace on a treadmill for 30 minutes, while a control group stood on the treadmill for 30 minutes without any exercise. Both groups had their blood pressure measured before and after the session.
After exercise or rest, they took tests involving stress (a cognitive stress test and a pain tolerance test) that could affect their blood pressure.
Systolic blood pressure was stable in the 20 women before and immediately after the treadmill session but was higher in measurements taken while they were resting.
“The temporary effect of just one aerobic exercise session is very important because the acute reduction in blood pressure over several consecutive days is expected to accumulate and lead to a permanent reduction over time, which contributes to the control of hypertension in rheumatoid arthritis,” Pecanha said.
On a 30-minute walking day, systolic pressure decreased by an average of 1 mmHg. On the day they rested, it increased by 4 mmHg.
Pecanha said the findings could also be applied to other autoimmune inflammatory diseases, such as lupus, psoriatic arthritis, inflammatory myopia and juvenile lupus.