Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients may benefit from exercise for several reasons. However, whole-limb strengthening exercises for such patients remain poorly studied. We hypothesized that systemic strength training that includes the upper and lower extremities would improve strength per se and enhance the quality of life. Here, we investigated the effects of 12 weeks of upper- and lower-limb strengthening exercise on the strength and quality of life of RA patients using the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health model. This was a prospective, interventional controlled trial. Forty female RA patients were recruited and assigned to two groups not based on willingness to exercise, with 20 patients in the exercise group and 20 in the control group. All patients in the exercise group received once-weekly training sessions of 60 min over 12 weeks. All participants were assessed before and after the 12-week intervention period. We measured the hand grip strength and isometric quadriceps contraction, the cross-sectional area of the rectus femoris (CSA-RF) (via ultrasonography), and performed the 30 s sit-to-stand test and the 6 min walk test (6MWT). We derived the Borg scale score after the 6MWT and assessed the extent of social participation and quality of life using a Korean version of the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36). A total of 35 subjects completed the experiment (18 in the exercise group, 17 in the control group). After the 12-week intervention period, the lower-limb strength and the CSA-RF were significantly increased in the exercise group. The activity level did not change significantly in either group. The exercise group exhibited significant improvements in the SF-36 mental health domain scores. Thus, strengthening exercise is useful for patients with RA.
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