High-intensity exercise can improve quality of life for systemic sclerosis patients

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) in the upper body can improve blood flow and quality of life for people with systemic sclerosis, sport scientists at Sheffield Hallam University have found.

Systemic sclerosis affects around three million people in the UK and is a clinical condition that affects the skin and the blood vessels in the fingers and can progress to internal organs. The primary symptom of systemic sclerosis is Raynaud’s phenomenon which is painful spasms in the fingers.

Thirty four patients took part in a trial and were split into three groups; cycling, arm-cranking and a controlled group (no exercise). The exercise groups underwent a 12-week programme, two days per week and all participants were assessed on their blood flow, physical fitness, body composition and quality of life before and after the trial period.

The trial concluded that participants allocated to the arm cranking programme improved the blood flow in the fingers compared to the other two groups, and the exercise itself was found to be more feasible and tolerable. The study also found that exercise could prevent common symptoms of systemic sclerosis such as digital ulcers.

Alexandros Mitropoulos from the University’s Centre for Sport and Exercise Science, said: “Aerobic exercise in general and high-intensity interval training specifically is known to improve the blood vessels function in a range of clinical conditions. However, the affect of HIIT on the blood flow in small blood vessels, such as those in the fingers, in systemic sclerosis patients is yet to be investigated.

“Our study has shown that resistance training could be a complementary training element in driving further improvements in blood flow in the small blood vessels as well as reducing the risk of further systemic complications and other major factors that affect quality of life.”

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