Physical Fitness Linked with Better Quality of Life in Women with SLE

Patricia Inacio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inacio, PhD |

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Physical fitness, particularly muscle strength and cardiorespiratory fitness, are associated with better quality of life scores in women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a study reports.

The study, “Association of physical fitness components and health-related quality of life in women with systemic lupus erythematosus with mild disease activity,” was published in the journal PLOS One.

Thanks to advances in medicine and treatment options, SLE patients now live as long as the general population. However, despite the focus on improving quality of life, these patients still experience a deteriorated health-related quality of life compared to their healthy counterparts or patients with other chronic diseases.

Studies suggest that physical fitness is associated with better quality of life scores in SLE patients. These patients often have reduced levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, as well as muscular strength and exercise capacity, which correlate with fatigue and their perception of disease severity.

But to date, the role of physical fitness in SLE patients’ quality of life has been focused on the physical aspects only, ignoring its potential impact on patients’ social and mental health aspects.

In this study, a team of researchers in Spain enrolled 70 women with SLE (mean age 42.5 years) with stable clinical disease, defined as no changes in the SLE disease activity index (SLEDAI) in the six months preceding the study.

Participants underwent tests to determine their overall physical fitness, as well as specific domains. The back-scratch test evaluated their flexibility; the 30-second chair stand and handgrip strength tests measured muscle strength; and the 6-minute walk test was used to evaluate cardiorespiratory fitness (this was performed by 49 of the participants).

Health quality of life was measured by the 36-item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36), which evaluates physical and social parameters, including social functioning, emotions, and mental health. Depression and fatigue were evaluated using the Beck Depression Inventory-second edition and the Spanish version of the Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory (MFI-S), respectively.

The results showed that overall physical fitness, muscle strength, and cardiorespiratory fitness were all linked with improved quality of life, particularly better physical function and less body pain. Flexibility, however, showed contradictory results, being associated with better physical function but worse social function.

No link was detected between physical fitness and mental quality of life, suggesting that “physical fitness may be a greater determinant for the limitations assessed in the physical component, while other factors such age, disease activity, or duration may be closer to mental health in SLE,” researchers said.

Overall, the findings suggest that physical fitness improves quality of life for women with SLE. However, the study was not designed to determine a causality between both parameters, and more research is needed to address the matter.

“Future research is needed to understand the prognostic value of fitness and the extent to which increasing fitness through exercise might be linked to improvements in [health quality of life],” the study concluded.