Ankylosing Spondylitis Exercises | This AS Life

We've teamed up with physiotherapy experts Tom O'Dwyer and Dr Fiona Wilson to look at why, for exercise and AS, groups are great.

Have you heard the news? Exercise is good for you. Probably not a complete shock, This AS Life is guessing: we’re continually being bombarded with the benefits of exercise. Regular solo exercise really helps with AS symptoms1,2, but did you know that group exercise might be better still?

It's not just for your back

Home-based solo exercise has been shown to help ease many aspects of AS – and we don’t mean just the physical ones.1,2 This kind of home exercise helps the mental symptoms of AS as well as the physical ones.3,4 Some go as far as saying it lifts the spirits and restores emotional balance.5 Solo exercise helps with other measures of quality of life too, such as sleep and vitality4 – but can group exercise go one better?

People power

When it comes to exercise in AS, it would seem that in some cases, many heads may be better than one. Research found that group exercise is better at improving quality of life and spinal movement compared with home exercise; the jury is still out on the differences on disease activity.1,2 Sounds promising, but how can group exercise actually lead to better results than exercising alone?

Stretching the truth?

The group exercisers in the studies above were supervised by health professionals: we can be more certain of the quality and amount of exercise they actually did. A cynic might argue that the home exercisers just pretended to do the exercise they said they did. In other words, they saw less benefit from their exercise because they simply did less of it.

Another way of looking at it is that it was the social aspect of group exercise that made the difference, offering benefits that solo exercise doesn’t deliver.6

"A key ingredient in any successful exercise programme is motivation; not everyone has the internal drive to exercise alone."

Endorphin endorsement

Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, the body’s self-made painkillers. Endorphins released through exercising are associated with increased pain tolerance6, improved appetite control7, and reduced anxiety.8 These benefits occur regardless of whether exercising alone or in a group. Some researchers have suggested that, as social animals, engaging in group exercise leads to a greater release of endorphins than exercising alone6 - this is a topic that needs further investigation.

Keep it up!

A key ingredient in any successful exercise programme is motivation; not everyone has the internal drive to exercise alone. For many people, committing to a group makes it easier to stay motivated5; you’re more likely to keep the exercise up if you’re not doing it alone.9 Making it to a regular exercise class is definitely far harder than making it to the foot of the bed for a workout. But once you commit to going, get to know people there and, crucially, start to feel the benefits, it could start feeling harder not to go instead. 

Choosing a type of exercise you like and are interested in, something you want to do, certainly helps with motivation. If the thought of traditional exercise, like running or going to the gym, doesn’t appeal, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that swimming, aerobics, or Pilates10,11 have health benefits for people with AS too.

It’s about finding what works for you– the collective wisdom of groups can help you find new strategies for exercising safely and effectively.

This article was written by Tom O’Dwyer and Dr Fiona Wilson, regular contributors at A social site, helping the whole AS community to: Learn. Share. Inspire. Discuss.


1. Dagafinrud H et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008 Jan 23; (1): CD002882.
2. O’Dwyer T et al. Rheumatology Int 2014; 34: 887–902.
3. Lim HJ et al. Rheumatol Int 2005; 25:225–229.
4. Durmus D et al. Rheumatol Int 2009; 29:673–677.
5. O’Dwyer T et al. J Phys Act Health 2015 Oct 28 [Epub ahead of print].
6. Cohen EE et al. Biol Lett 2010; 6:106–108.
7. McArdle et al. (2015) Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance (8th Edition) Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
8. Boecker H et. al. Cereb Cortex. 2008 ;18: 2523-31
9. Hidding A et al. Arthritis Care Res 1994; 7:90–96.
10. Karapolat H et al. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med 2009; 45:449–457.
11. Roşu MO et al. Rheumatol Int 2014; 34:367–372.



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Meet Fiona & Tom


Dr Fiona Wilson



Tom O'Dwyer


Dr Fiona Wilson is an Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin and a qualified physiotherapist; with over 25 years of clinical and research experience. She works with Tom O’Dwyer, a practising physiotherapist with international experience working in a major teaching hospital in Dublin. He recently completed his PhD in Physiotherapy with his thesis "Physical Activity and Physical Fitness in Adults with Ankylosing Spondylitis".

Among a range of shared research interests, together they’re investigating the positive effects of physiotherapy for people with AS.

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