Patient Blogs | Ankylosing Spondylitis
The Importance of Exercise to Me and to Managing My AS
photo of senior woman exercising in home gym

What haven’t I experimented with when it comes to exercising my body to manage ankylosing spondylitis?

I was an active kid, playing sports such as floor hockey, volleyball, and competitive soccer. My body flourished with movement. Imagine a red rose stretching toward the warm rays of the sun for growth and survival. My body craves exercise in the same fashion.

In middle school, I was an alternate on the track and field team and I was fast. My coach informed me that my services were required for the city tournament relay team. I ran in the third position, and when the baton hit my hand, I took off like a bat out of you-know-where and ran as fast as my legs could go. The thrill of running with the wind behind my back combined with the loud roar of the crowd was one of the most exciting memories of my preteen years. 

In my early 20s, my body was a functioning machine and I could rely on it -- until the brakes came to a screeching halt. 

When I developed AS in the prime of my life, my relationship to my body drastically changed. I find it quite interesting when you can move with no restriction, you don’t have to think about it, and you assume this will forever be the case. But when a little ache here or a little pain there creeps into your body like a thief in the night, this perspective completely changes. 

Have you felt this way, too?

Mornings were the most difficult to deal with. When my morning alarm rang, I dreaded getting out of bed more than my job. I was struggling with hot and extremely sore, swollen knees. So hot in fact that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone could have cooked an egg on them, especially my left knee.

I wasn’t taking medication at the time because I was experimenting to determine if I could go the distance without it. (I also feared medication would wreak havoc with my stomach over the long term). I was so angry about my “morning routine” because getting out of bed wasn’t a concern in my youth. 

Desperate to get back to my 5 days per week in the gym routine, I made the tough decision to try a biologic. It didn’t work, so I tried another one. Ironically, the biologic I was previously taking miraculously started working again. My movement slowly improved. As I got better, I started an exercise routine.

My body comes alive when I work out. My heartbeat is ramped up, fully charged, sweat rolls down my skin, and my breath becomes quick as I work hard at strengthening my muscles. I now work out 2 days per week with strength training, daily walking, and I have gotten back into practicing yoga once per week.

I’m getting stronger every day, and sometimes I hear the Britney Spears song “Stronger'' in my head as I move.  

So what advice do I have for you in regard to moving?

Movement creates a solid mind-body connection. Your body is everything and it’s the only one you’ve got. If your body is unwell, your mind can go through confusion and anxiety over the smallest things. Start out slowly. Take pictures as you go along because pictures are powerful and are wonderful for showing you how far you’ve come.

Movement makes you feel alive. Living in pain is so challenging and can zap your spirit. You deserve to spend some time each day to take your mind off your pain. I would encourage you to start by walking. Do you have a dog? Perfect reason to put on your running shoes. You're killing two birds with one stone. Although I take my dog, Stella, out each morning for a walk, I swear she’s walking me.

Movement is a personal activity. When you join a class and work out with other people, it’s so easy to start comparing yourself to them. But listen, you have no idea what others have been through to get where they are. Just do you. Focus on what you can do in the moment. Know that if you put in the time and consistent effort, you can look and feel better.



Photo Credit: MoMo Productions / DigitalVision via Getty Images

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Lovaine Cohen

Lovaine Cohen

Diagnosed since 2001

Lovaine Cohen has lived with ankylosing spondylitis for over 20 years. A chronic pain coach, Lovaine helps women reduce pain with her Holistic Healing Method program and shares pain management and anxiety tips on her blog and on Instagram. Her loves include her two children in their early 20s, a rescue husky named Stella, and her husband of 28 years. Connect with Lovaine on Instagram.

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