Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2023
Living with axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) can be unpredictable and challenging. But there are several lifestyle changes you can make to improve your symptoms and overall disease outcome. From choosing a healthy diet to getting regular exercise, taking responsibility for your health is a key step in managing axSpA.1
Eating healthy is crucial to your well-being, especially when living with a chronic illness such as axSpA. Knowing which foods to focus on and what to limit can help reduce flares and other symptoms.1,2
Too much body weight can stress your joints and worsen your axSpA symptoms. Maintain a healthy weight by eating nutrient-dense foods and being careful about how much you eat.2,3
Also, limiting processed foods and sugary snacks can help you maintain a healthy weight. But be wary of claims that come with fad diets. No single diet or food timing has been shown to definitively improve axSpA symptoms.2,3
Eating vitamin-rich foods helps support your bone health. Foods such as fish, leafy greens, and dairy have lots of vitamins and minerals that are good for your bones. These minerals include:4
Be mindful of the amount of alcohol you drink as well. Excessive alcohol affects your overall health and can negatively affect your bone health. Studies have linked chronic alcohol use to bone problems like osteoporosis. This condition leads to weak, brittle bones. If you drink, talk to your doctor about how much is too much.5
You may have different food sensitivities than people who do not have axSpA. Keep track of the types of food that make your symptoms worse. This way, you can eat less of those foods or find different foods that don't trigger your symptoms. Everyone is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer.2,6
Before making changes to your diet, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can help ensure that you get all the nutrients your body needs. They can also make sure that you will not have any medical problems if you make big changes to your diet.2
Cigarette smoking can be very bad for your health, especially if you have axSpA. Smoking contributes to inflammation in the spine and other joints, which can make pain and stiffness worse. In some cases, smoking may trigger flares or worsen other symptoms related to axSpA.7,8
Quitting smoking has been found to reduce joint swelling, tenderness, and stiffness. It also decreases the number of flares you have. And it improves blood circulation, which helps keep your bones healthy.9
Quitting smoking is not an easy task. However, there are ways that you can do so successfully. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you.
Getting regular exercise has a number of benefits, such as reducing inflammation and improving heart health. While it is important for everyone, staying active is essential for those with axSpA. It can reduce pain, improve joint function, and help you maintain a healthy weight.10
Because axSpA mainly affects the spine, posture exercises are a great way to improve your spine health and overall muscle strength. These exercises involve stretching, strengthening, and relaxation techniques that are designed to improve posture, reduce pain, and increase mobility in your spine.11
Stretching exercises reduce tension in the muscles and tendons around your spine. By loosening tight muscles, you can help improve the range of motion in your spine, reduce pain, and increase flexibility. This can make it easier to move around and perform daily activities.12
Before you begin any new exercise routine, talk to your doctor. They can help you understand your limits and possibly refer you to a physical therapist to make sure you do not hurt yourself.
Stress levels are often high among people living with axSpA. And stress can worsen symptoms like inflammation and chronic pain, making life more difficult. To help manage stress, find one or more methods that work for you. Methods you can try include:13
- Support groups
- Special breathing techniques
- Spending time in nature
These activities may give you tools to better handle your stress and manage your overall health.
Being healthy is a lifelong journey, and making lifestyle changes can be daunting. But the long-term rewards of even small changes can lead to big results. It may require some adjustment, but the rewards are worth the effort.