Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects approximately 1% of all Canadians. RA is associated with a higher rate of disease and death as well as a decreased life expectancy. Changes in death rates and life expectancy are mainly the result of an increased frequency of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The increase in CVD frequency is primarily attributable to accelerated atherosclerosis. It is believed that elevated levels of inflammation, which are characteristic of RA, play a key role in accelerated rate of CVD in RA patients. Thus, inflammation is considered a primary risk factor for CVD in RA patients. Interestingly, despite a better understanding of the relationship between RA and CVD and improved treatment for RA patients the death rate in RA population continues to increase. Thus, there is an immediate need to develop treatment strategies to reduce the risk of CVD associated with inflammation in the RA population.
Exercise is commonly used to reduce the risk of CVD. Preventative exercise programs are often offered as part of cardiac rehabilitation (CR) programs. These programs help patients modify CVD risk factors, improve physical capacity and decrease CVD risk. Studies also suggest that CR programs decrease levels of inflammation. Since RA patients have an elevated risk for CVD, which is primarily attributed to increased levels of inflammation, they are prime candidates for CR programs. However, RA patients are very rarely referred to CR programs. Thus, there is a lack of information regarding the effects of CR on RA patients. Thus studies are needed to determine whether CR modifies levels of inflammation and decreases CVD risk in RA patients. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to determine the effects of a 12-week standardized cardiac rehabilitation exercise program on systemic inflammation and CVD risk in individuals with RA. Specifically, this study will characterize the effects of a community based CR exercise program on systemic markers of inflammation (proinflammatory cytokines) and global CVD risk (Framingham risk profile) as well as the therapeutic effects of CR exercise on the severity of RA.
This study will help to clarify the mechanism(s) by which exercise impacts CVD risk in patients with inflammatory disease. In addition, the study will show how CR may benefit patients with inflammatory disease with respect to their ability to exercise, global risk for cardiovascular disease and quality of life.