Scleroderma is a condition that causes the skin and connective tissue to become hard and contract. For some patients, only the skin may be affected, but other patients experience scleroderma on vital organs and blood vessels. There is currently no cure for scleroderma, but there are treatments available to manage the symptoms.
According to researchers, performing high-intensity arm exercises may increase blood circulation among scleroderma patients by increasing the dilation of blood vessels along with the amount of oxygen consumed by the muscles.
Although cycling was also found to increase muscle oxygen consumption, arm exercises were found to be more effective, especially for blood vessel dilation.
An estimated 90 percent of scleroderma patients also experience Raynaud’s disease, an autoimmune condition that leads to reduced blood flow. A lack of blood flow can cause the extremities to become cold.
There are medical treatments for Raynaud’s disease, but they can trigger unwanted side effects along with increasing the risk of heart disease over time. Therefore, finding alternative remedies is important.
High-intensity exercise is an alternative to medications as a means of improving blood circulation.
The study compared the effects of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on their ability to improve blood circulation. The researchers looked at cycling and arm cranking as two types of HIIT exercises. The participants were either in the cycling group, arm cranking group, or control group for 12 weeks. Exercises were performed twice weekly. At the end of the 12 weeks, results were compared to the start of the study.
The findings revealed that exercise is effective for improving blood circulation, but blood vessel dilation was greater among the arm cranking group. Exercise was also found to improve symptoms related to Raynaud’s disease. Lastly, participants seemed to prefer the arm cranking exercise more than the cycling.
The researchers concluded, “This is the first study to demonstrate that upper-limb aerobic exercise may be able to improve microvascular endothelial-dependent function in the digital area in patients with scleroderma experiencing Raynaud’s phenomenon. Future research should focus on exploring the feasibility of a combined exercise such as aerobic and resistance training by assessing individuals’ experience and the quality of life in scleroderma patients.”
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