Developing A Movement Routine
I've always been one of the "move it or lose it" types. Why? Because it's served me, and because movement is one of the main therapies experts recommend for this disease. As the Spondylitis Association says, "Exercise is an integral part of treating spondyloarthritis. A holistic approach to spondyloarthritis – which treats the whole person, includes exercise and wellness practices – and is the gold standard."1
I love that they mention "holistic" because I've tried just medication. I've tried just trying to get through my day without intention. And I've failed. This disease doesn't respond to our doing bare minimum. It begs us to pay attention to every aspect: The mental, the physical, and the emotional. I think that's where movement comes into play—sort of the meeting point of all three.
Using movement to improve my body's function
For me, movement isn't about just going for a run (as if; my spine would probably literally implode) or burning calories (not a great motivator, nor a healthy mindset) or being thin or hot. Movement is about conditioning the body so that I can wake up and walk. So I can feel myself breathing as my lungs expand. So that I can kick up my endorphins. So that I can sleep. So that my metabolism works in a way that keeps me healthy. So that I can walk up stairs. So that I can bend over (even if it's tougher for me than others).
But mostly, exercise is my one way to say, "I am also in this body."
It doesn't belong to AS. And I have autonomy. I am present. I am showing up to myself.
Obviously, every single person with AxSpA is going to have a different disease experience, as well as different disease activity. This means that exercise for me might look different from exercise for you. There are people who still run marathons and even complete in bodybuilding contests with AS. And there are people who prefer to bike, walk, or swim every so often.
To develop a routine that works for you, my suggestions are:
Find your why
Seriously, this is a sort of guiding light for me. None of the other reasons work. Vanity doesn't appeal to me. I don't really have a competitive nature. I hate sports. My why is, "so I can continue moving." Every time I do a workout, I have that in mind.
Try to move daily
Whether that's a walk, or a yoga session (Yoga For AS is a thing!), or a low-impact YouTube video. 15 minutes. 20 minutes. Whatever you can. Doing this on low-energy or low-mobility days will be harder, but there are gentle stretches you can do to tend to your body in careful ways.
It can also be helpful to:
- Capitalize on better energy days.
- Always stretch before and after to avoid injury.
- Congratulate yourself for your hard work.
- When times get tough, think of your future.
And finally, it's okay to rest when you need it. You will know when you need a day off. You will know when it's not safe to move. Trust your gut, and get back up when you can.
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