Walking for AS Management
Last updated: September 2022
Around the time I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), I became heavily invested in the medicine of movement. It’s not that I didn’t want to take pharmacological drugs. I do, I have, and I will. It’s that I believe the holistic is just as important as the conventional. In fact, I am not so sure the binary even needs to exist.
Movement, to me, is quite literally everything
It is its own type of medicine. I truly don’t know how I would actually live my life if I didn’t prioritize regular exercise — and that's a privilege I acknowledge and celebrate, because, unlike many, I haven't lost mobility yet, and I can still fight for it every day. AS is a tough disease.
Given the stage of my disability, I am still able to move mostly very freely. I have days where getting into and out of a car might be difficult or walking long distances might be difficult — but overall, if I keep moving my body, my body keeps moving.
Not every day is the same, of course, but if I take the time to work on my mobility and strength, it serves me dividends in the end. Some days I’ll do a dance workout. Some days I’ll do an aqua class. I love HIIT-style classes (with modifications) or gentle stretching sessions. Basically, I love turning up the music and dancing or lighting a candle and turning on YouTube to do some sort of 10-minute workout.
For me, exercise just isn't about calories or beefing up. It's about mobility, strength, balance, and fighting against reduced lung capacity and heart disease (which studies show can occur in AS1).
Lately, I’ve been adding walking to my routine
I’ll be honest: I used to sort of ignore walking as a workout. I just sort of saw walking as a way of getting from one place to another; my workouts were a totally separate thing. I also found walking sort of, well, boring.
However, I started having incredibly bad anxiety this year — and walking was one of the ways that I could get out of my head. Walking helped me change the channel in my brain. If I walked in nature, even better. I would put on a podcast and simply walk. Sometimes to the park. Sometimes to the botanical garden. Sometimes just to Starbucks and back.
I started noticing that even though walking would sometimes feel very painful on my hip or sacrum, it generally helps to alleviate my pain in the long term. By the end of the day, after a long walk, I felt pretty good. I often take breaks and stretch along the way, though. It's not always easy, even if it's low impact. So long as I have a good pair of sneakers on, a walk is now one of my go-to's.
Beyond its many physiological benefits for arthritic folks2, learned that walking is also really good for stress management3, since it actually reduces cortisol levels. It's also great for a mood boost.4
Do you walk? For how long and how often?
Has changing your diet helped manage your pain and flares?