To study the effects of a one-year physical activity programme on aerobic capacity, physical activity and health-related quality of life (HRQL) in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) by a randomized control design. Thirty-five women with low or moderate disease activity and organ damage were randomized to intervention (I) or control (C) group. The intervention during months 0-3 consisted of education, supervised aerobic exercise at high intensity and individual coaching, as well as self-managed physical activity at low-to-moderate intensity. During months 4-12, the physical activity was self-managed and the coaching was successively reduced over time. Outcome measures included: maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) from a bicycle ergometer test, self-reported physical activity and HRQL (SF-36). VO2 at sub-max. and max. increased, independent of group, during the one-year study period (main effect of time p < 0.0001). VO2 max. increased between baseline and month 3 (p < 0.0001), between months 3 and 6 (p = 0.01) and the increase was sustained at month 12 (ns). Frequency of physical activity at high intensity also increased, independent of group, during the study period. It was increased at months 3, 6 and 12 compared to baseline (p = 0.02, p < 0.001, p = 0.03). Improvement in mental health between baseline and month 6 (p = 0.002) was seen for the I-group, not the C-group (p = 0.03). Disease activity and organ damage did not change.
Physical activity and aerobic capacity increased after supervised exercise and coaching, and the improvement was sustained during the one-year programme. However, no interactions between the group differences were seen, which suggests that repeated measurements could motivate to increased physical activity and thereby to increased aerobic capacity. As sub-max. VO2 increased over time, training-induced changes in VO2 on-kinetics could be another explanation. Little influence on HRQL was seen after the programme. The study indicates that physical activity at high intensity over one year is tolerated by patients with mild to moderate SLE.