SI Pain: 3/100 | Rib Pain: 0/100 | Concrete Back: 17/100
Walking is essential.
It’s something I realised long before I got my official AS diagnosis and long before I started the diet.
It’s so, so important to keep your joints moving.
Whether you have ankylosing spondylitis, autoimmune problems (or even just a stiffness-inducing desk job!), you’ve got to keep your body going.
Humans are not evolved to sit on a chair all day long and wither away.
If you have AS, there really is no choice. Inactivity is a killer. Even with the most perfect dietary regimen, you have to exercise.
If you don’t, the stiffness will render you like a concrete block and you’ll be at far greater risk of flaring.
The exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous or strenuous (gentle walking is great), but you do need to move and ideally couple that with some form of stretching.
If you’ve followed this diary and this site for a while you’ll know that I’ve spent the last two years tracking everything in absurd detail. I’ve become obsessed with testing and trying to make marginal gains to beat the pain and build up my mobility.
Technology can help with some of this and my watch and phone now tell me about my every movement. I know the way big tech companies tracks and sell our data is terrifying and Orwellian, but I can’t quite bring myself to switch off the tracking function on my Google account… because every now and then it will pop up with some cool stats.
Today it asked me if I wanted to see my March stats. Here’s what it said:
I walked 232 miles last month!
That’s 17 more miles than I clocked in the car or on public transport. Admittedly, we don’t actually own a car, so a win on the driving part isn’t that impressive, but still, it’s interesting to see the numbers in black and white.
Whenever people ask me about the diet and lifestyle changes, they often think it’s all just about the food and gut (probably because of the way I describe it), and it must sound like it is some sort of weird miracle fix. Just eat this and you’ll be healed.
What doesn’t tend to come up as much is all the exercise part. When my AS was really bad and I was in flare all the time, I was popping pills and walking 4 hours a day plus just to exist. ‘Exist’ might sound like a strange word to use there, but walking was my only respite. I had to walk longer and longer just to enjoy the tiniest glimpses of pain-free existence.
Normally after a few pills and a few hours of walking. The trouble was they were always temporary.
I would walk for an hour and 10 minutes, and the pain would start to dissolve. I would then be relatively pain-free for the remainder of the walk, and then when I got home, if I was lucky, I would have a further 1-2 hours where I could sit down and not feel too much pain or stiffness.
But after a while, it would always return.
Now things are very different, but I really want to stress that managing AS through lifestyle is about unplugging yourself from all the unhealthy habits of the modern world, not just diet.
When I used to go out for a walk before, the first 15 minutes or so were usually extremely painful. The pay-off was always worth it, but the start was very zombie leg-drag-like and uncomfortable.
Now I go out for a walk with a spring in my step.
And when I get back, I can go the rest of the day (providing I’ve clocked my 15k steps, which is the optimum for me at the moment) without being in pain or feeling too much stiffness.
So the walking and diet combined work in tandem.
The diet stops the inflammation from making that first stretch painful. It also ensures all the good work from walking stays and lasts longer. Whereas the walking keeps the joints moving and the blood pumping and everything well-oiled.
For anyone trying to manage their AS, it’s worth bearing in mind that all these healthy habits feed one another and form layers of benefits, and it’s this layering and combination that helps you hit pain-free.
It’s not always easy, and it can be hard work, but the medium and long-term benefits start to snowball.
When you are pain-free, you sleep better. When you sleep better, you have more energy and focus. When you have more energy and focus, your mood is better and you feel like moving and exercising more. So you do just that… and then you get more benefits and even less pain.
Walking every day has had a tremendous impact on my health, and I hope, if you are able, this is something you can try to help manage your AS.
The only downside is that I get through a lot of soles!