A woman is lifting a bar with medical stuff on the left and healthy food stuff on the right

The Powerful Synergy of Lifestyle Change and Medical Treatment

There often seem to be two opposing camps in managing AS: adopt a healthy lifestyle or take the conventional medical approach.

As a Functional Health Coach I see value in using all the tools available to us to improve health outcomes. I favor a balance of both lifestyle strategies and medical supervision, as both play a crucial role in managing AS.

Positive lifestyle habits can significantly enhance a medical treatment approach

Take, for example, how improvements in general health can maximize the effects of medication. I notice that my coaching clients who maintain a healthy weight, exercise, don’t smoke and don’t abuse alcohol experience better results and fewer side effects when taking medication. They are also less likely to be hospitalized or need surgical intervention than those who rely on medication alone without incorporating positive health behaviors. These people often find themselves less reliant on medication over time as their general health improves.

Taking care of your general health may help reduce other health concerns or requiring a more complex medical treatment plan where drugs have the potential to interact in a negative way.

Taking a different perspective, medication can make positive lifestyle change more doable by breaking the cycle of pain, sleep deprivation, and depression.

Habit change is so much easier when symptoms are at a manageable level

We know exercising, socializing and preparing healthy meals have positive health benefits, but all of those things fall by the wayside when you’re in the fog of a flare.

This is where medication is such a useful tool. It can bring you back to a baseline of feeling OK and make it possible to add back in all the other strategies that help keep inflammation at bay. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my own self-management was leaning so heavily into natural solutions that I began to see pain relief medication as the enemy.

Looking back now I can see the level of pain I put up with was unhealthy

I thought “toughing it out” would benefit me, when in reality it kept my body in a constant state of stress and inflammation. In time I learned that medication was a valuable tool I could use to get out of pain, get some sleep and break the vicious cycle.

Traditionally, many doctors were unwilling to speak about lifestyle change in relation to AS, other than to advise patients to "just keep moving."

Unfortunately this has created a level of skepticism amongst many people who insist medication is the only proven approach to managing AS. In reality, those who do well on medication alone while completely disregarding their general health are a minority. It also remains to be seen how well they will do as they age.

The tide is slowly changing and more progressive doctors are starting to talk about the importance of gut health, stress management, strength training and more. Many are also encouraging patients to take a more active role in their condition as a growing body of evidence shows the impact proactive self-management has on health outcomes.

Something I often reference is the list of disease prevention strategies published online by the US Center for Disease Control. These encourage a combination of health-promoting behaviors and regular medical input.

It seems only logical that our approach to managing chronic illness should follow similar lines.

How well-managed is your AS right now? Is it time to revisit your medical treatment approach? Are there areas of your lifestyle that you could change to better support your health?

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