Eligible studies were randomised controlled trials comparing a dynamic exercise programme to another programme involving non-dynamic exercise or no exercise. Criteria for the studies to be eligible were: adult participants (older than 18 years) who fulfilled standard criteria for rheumatoid arthritis; a dynamic exercise programme intervention that increased heart rate to at least 60 per cent of maximal heart rate during 20 minutes with at least two sessions a week for at least six weeks. Also, at least one of the following outcomes needed to be measured: VO2 max, quadriceps strength, range of motion, time needed to walk 50 feet, function as assessed by validated questionnaires, pain score, erythrocyte sedimentation rate and swollen joint counts.
Most participants in the included studies were female (65 per cent to 100 per cent). Median age ranged from 45 to 56 years, although one group of patients was older (median age 67 years). Most participants had been on stable disease-modifying antirheumatic drug therapy for at least three months. Those with moderate to severe functional disability were excluded. Some participants were on glucocorticoid therapy. The dynamic exercise programme ranged from twice to four to five times per week. Session times ranged from 20 to 90 minutes. Duration varied from six weeks to years, although the majority of studies had programmes of three months or less. The exercise programme included home bicycles and exercises in water. Control groups received either no exercise or home exercises.
Two of the authors independently selected studies for inclusion, with disagreements resolved by informal consensus.