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Low level of physical activity in women with rheumatoid arthritis is associated with cardiovascular risk factors but not with body fat mass - a cross sectional study

Ann-Charlotte Elkan1*, Niclas Håkansson2, Johan Frostegård3 and Ingiäld Hafström1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Rheumatology, Karolinska Institutet at Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge, 141 86 Stockholm, Sweden

2 The National Institute of Environmental Medicine, Division of Nutritional Epidemiology, Karolinska Institutet, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden

3 Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet at Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge, 141 86 Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2011, 12:13  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-12-13

Published: 14 January 2011



As many patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have increased fat mass (FM) and increased frequency of cardiovascular diseases we evaluated if total physical activity (MET-hours) had impact on body composition and cardiovascular risk factors in women with RA.


Sixty-one out-ward RA women, 60.8 (57.3-64.4) years, answered a self-administered questionnaire, to estimate total daily physical activity during the previous year. Physical activity level was given as metabolic equivalents (MET) × h/day. Diet content was assessed by a food frequency questionnaire and body composition by whole-body dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Blood lipids and antibodies against phosphorylcholine (anti-PC) were determined.


Forty-one percent of the women had BMI > 25, 6% were centrally obese and 80% had FM% > 30%. The median (IQR) total physical activity was 40.0 (37.4-47.7), i.e. the same activity level as healthy Swedish women in the same age. Total physical activity did not significantly correlate with disease activity, BMI or FM%. Disease activity, BMI and FM% did not differ between those in the lowest quartile of total physical activity and those in the highest quartile. However, the women in the lowest quartile of physical activity had lower HDL (p = 0.05), Apo A1 (p = 0.005) and atheroprotective natural anti-PC (p = 0.016) and higher levels of insulin (p = 0.05) and higher frequency of insulin resistance than those in the highest quartile. Women in the lowest quartile consumed larger quantities of saturated fatty acids than those in the highest quartile (p = 0.042), which was associated with high oxidized low-density lipoprotein (oxLDL).


This cross sectional study demonstrated that RA women with fairly low disease activity, good functional capacity, high FM and high frequency of central obesity had the same total physical activity level as healthy Swedish women in the same age. The amount of total physical activity was not associated with functional capacity or body composition. However, low total physical activity was associated with dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, low levels of atheroprotective anti-PC and consumption of saturated fatty acids, which is of interest in the context of increased frequency of cardiovascular disease in RA.