The importance of exercise for me and for managing my AS

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

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

In college, I was a substitute on the track team and I was fast. My coach informed me that my services were required for the city tournament relay team. I ran in third, and when the baton hit my hand, I took off like a you-know-where bat and ran as fast as my legs could go. The thrill of running with the wind at your back combined with the roar of the crowd was one of the most exciting memories of my pre-teen years.

In my early twenties, my body was a working machine and I could trust it, until the brakes came to a screeching halt.

When I developed AS in my prime, my relationship with my body changed dramatically. I find it quite interesting when you can move around without restriction, you don’t have to think about it, and you guess you always will. But when a little pain here or a little pain creeps into your body like a thief in the night, that perspective changes completely.

Did you feel that too?

The mornings were the most difficult to manage. When my morning alarm went off, I was more dreading getting out of bed than my job. I was struggling with hot and extremely painful and swollen knees. So hot in fact that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone could have cooked an egg on it, especially my left knee.

I wasn’t on medication at the time because I was experimenting to see if I could go the distance without it. (I was also worried that the drugs would wreak havoc on my stomach in the long run). I was so angry with my “morning routine” because getting out of bed was not a concern in my youth.

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

My body comes alive when I train. My heart rate is quickened, fully charged, sweat rolls on my skin, and my breathing quickens as I work hard to strengthen my muscles. I now train 2 days a week with strength training, daily walking, and have resumed practicing yoga once a week.

I get stronger every day, and sometimes I hear Britney Spears’ song “Stronger” in my head as I move.

So what advice do I have for you regarding the move?

Movement creates a strong connection between mind and body. Your body is everything and it’s the only one you have. If your body is not doing well, your mind may feel confused and anxious about the smallest things. Start slowly. Take pictures as you go because the pictures are powerful and are wonderful for showing you how far you have come.

The movement makes you feel alive. Living in pain is so difficult and can zap your mind. You deserve to spend time every day to forget about your pain. I encourage you to start by walking. Do you have a dog? Perfect reason to put on your running shoes. You kill two birds with one stone. Although I walk my dog, Stella, every morning I swear she takes me for a walk.

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

Photo credit: MoMo Productions / DigitalVision via Getty Images

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