NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients could reduce their cardiovascular risk by spending more time walking, according to a report in the May Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Physical inactivity and sedentary behavior contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease, the authors explain, but little is known about energy expenditure from lifestyle physical activity in RA patients.

Dr. Carol A. Mancuso from Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York and associates compared energy expenditure from exercise and lifestyle activities between 122 RA patients and 122 healthy controls.

At the beginning of the study, RA patients spent fewer kilocalories per week walking, exercising and participating in sports than did controls, the authors report.

Similar percentages of RA patients and controls met their recommended thresholds for total weekly energy expenditure, the results indicate, but the percent of RA patients meeting the recommended threshold for walking (32%) was notably lower than controls (48%).

At follow-up an average of 14 months later, the researchers note, few of the assessments showed any significant changes. RA patients continued to expend fewer kilocalories per week overall and were less likely to meet the threshold for walking, compared with controls.

The only factor predicting more energy expenditure at follow-up was greater total energy expenditure at enrollment, the report indicates.

"This study provides evidence that despite the fact that walking is an excellent lifestyle activity, it is markedly underutilized in RA patients," the authors note. "Our study supports the development and implementation of interventions to foster walking as part of a program to address cardiovascular risk in RA patients."

"Given the markedly increased risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with RA," the investigators add, "fostering prudent physical activity should be a priority in the overall plan to reduce cardiovascular risk."