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Healthy Living With AS

There’s no way around it: ankylosing spondylitis (AS) changes your lifestyle. From early symptoms of low back pain and early morning stiffness, AS makes itself known in your daily life. As a chronic condition, it’s not something you can just take a pill and forget about. AS requires daily management and a combined effort from you and your healthcare team.

It is manageable, though, and you can still live a full life with AS. Taking an active role in your health can give you a sense of control and improve the quality of your life.

Staying active

Exercise is good for everybody, but it’s essential for those with AS. Keeping the joints mobile and active helps with symptoms of AS like pain and stiffness. Your exercise program should be varied and include stretching, strengthening, cardiopulmonary, and functional fitness components. While there are some exercises people with AS should avoid – such as high-impact exercises like contact sports – there are many things that you can do, including cycling, yoga, swimming, and Pilates.1 The benefit of engaging in regular physical exercise goes beyond AS symptom management: it also improves your mental and emotional outlook.

Eating healthy

There’s lots of advice on diet these days, and everyone’s got an opinion. The reality is: there’s no one single diet that has been proven to be the best (or to cure) AS. When considering dietary advice, remember dietary recommendations are often based on personal experience, and diet changes that help one person may not help another.

There are some general rules to follow for healthy eating, including eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and limiting amounts of fats, alcohol, and sweets.2 Avoiding highly processed foods is generally recommended as well. Research has demonstrated that some foods have been shown to increase inflammation in the body while other foods may reduce inflammation, so following a diet that aims to reduce inflammation may help with AS symptoms.3 To get a customized plan for you, talk with a nutritionist or registered dietician.

Stopping smoking

Smoking causes many negative effects on the body, and studies show smoking worsens the joint damage from AS.4 Stopping smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Stopping smoking significantly improves disease activity in people with AS, and smoking cessation is also associated with improvements in physical mobility and quality of life.5 While it is easier said than done, there are strategies to help you be successful in quitting.

Getting quality sleep

AS can make sleep a challenge, as being still brings on more stiffness and pain, and it can just be difficult finding a position that is comfortable. Besides investing in a good mattress and supportive pillow, there are ways to improve your sleep, including practicing good sleep hygiene and stretching before you go to bed. Sleep is important for the body and the brain, and disturbed sleep can have multiple negative effects on your health and well-being, including making the pain, stiffness, and fatigue of AS worse.6 It’s important to tell your doctor if you continue to have difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Making adjustments around the home

AS can affect your daily life, and in some cases, it can impact a person’s balance, putting them at a higher risk of falls. There are several adaptations that can be made around the home to support a healthy posture and minimize the risk of falls. These include things like securing loose rugs, using night lights and wearing proper shoes.

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: February 2019
  1. Millner JR, Barron JS, Beinke KM, et al. Exercise for ankylosing spondylitis: An evidence-based consensus statement. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2016 Feb;45(4):411-27. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2015.08.003. Epub 2015 Aug 18.
  2. Diet’s effect on spondylitis symptoms. Spondylitis Association of America. Available at https://www.spondylitis.org/Diet-Nutrition. Accessed 2/20/19.
  3. Medication and diet. Spondylitis Association of America. Available at https://www.spondylitis.org/About-Spondylitis/Treatment-Information/Diet-Nutrition/Medication-Diet. Accessed 2/19/19.
  4. Davis J. Smoking worsens ankylosing spondylitis damage. Arthritis Foundation. Available at https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/ankylosing-spondylitis/articles/ankylosing-spondylitis-smoking.php. Published 10/29/13. Accessed 2/20/19.
  5. Dülger S, et al. How does smoking cessation affect disease activity, function loss, and quality of life in smokers with ankylosing spondylitis? J Clin Rheumatol. 2018 Jul 10. doi: 10.1097/RHU.0000000000000851. [Epub ahead of print] Abstract.
  6. Leverment S, Sengupta R. Disturbed sleep matters to ankylosing spondylitis. Atlas of Science. Available at https://atlasofscience.org/disturbed-sleep-matters-to-patients-with-ankylosing-spondylitis/. Published 8/17/17. Accessed 2/21/19.