Exercise Reduces Depressive Symptoms in Patients with Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases

Exercise can reduce depressive symptoms in patients with arthritis and rheumatic diseases, according to a recently published meta-analysis.

Exercise reduced depressive symptoms in a group of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions (AORC), suggests findings published in Arthritis Research & Therapy.

Researchers from West Virginia University School of Public Health conducted a meta analysis to investigate whether exercise would reduce depressive symptoms in patients with AORC, because previous studies have been conflicting regarding the effects of exercise. Studies were included from 10 databases if they met the following criteria: were randomized controlled trials; included exercise (aerobic, strength training, or both) for ≥ 4 weeks; included a comparative control groups; incorporated adults with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, or systemic lupus erythematosus; either published or unpublished studies in any language since 1981; and assessed depressive symptoms.

The researchers identified a total of 29 studies which encompassed 2,449 participants (1,470 exercise, 979 controls). The exercise intervention characteristics of the studies ranged from 4 to 78 weeks and varied from 1 to 9 times per week with a duration of anywhere from 12 to 83 minutes per session. The different studies utilized supervised and home based exercise regimens.

Depressive symptoms were significantly reduced, the researchers determined. Quality of life and both upper and lower body strength improved in the AORC patients once exercise regimens were introduced. Additionally, anxiety decreased in some patients.

Though the overall fact seems to be that for AORC patients, exercise can decrease depressive symptoms, the researchers noted that changing any of the several factors can weaken the overall effect. First, they wrote, unknown factors may be associated with the magnitude of the change. The researchers also suspected factors from the studies’ research teams, like reporting biases, poor methodological qualities, and chance.

The authors believe the assessment of depressive symptoms used in the studies can also effect the actual change observed in AORC patients. Those factors included methods used to assess depressive symptoms, type of AORC, exercise delivery, and observed associations between reductions in depressive symptoms and body mass index, pain, quality of life, and static balance.

Generally though, the authors determined that this meta analysis observed approximately 40 percent greater reduction in depressive symptoms in AORC patients than the previous meta analysis of pharmacologic interventions limited to participants with fibromyalgia. In that analysis, there was a decrease in depressed mood.

“The overall findings suggest that exercise is associated with important reductions in depressive symptoms among selected adults with AORC,” the authors concluded.