Taking Steps with Fibromyalgia

Taking Steps with Fibromyalgia

We all know that fibromyalgia means having good days and bad days. I just never realized how very different those days were.

A few months ago, I felt well both physically and emotionally (a rarity), and I realized that too much of my time was spent sitting. I definitely needed an exercise increase. To do this, I needed to know what my present activity level was. I had heard about pedometers for years but had never used one. I rarely walked enough to measure. But feeling more capable with my spurt of well-being, I found a free app called Stepz and bravely downloaded it on my phone. I was reluctant to know just how sedentary I was!

Before using the app, I needed to calculate the length of my stride, which is the distance between each step. This number (which my husband measured with chalk and a yardstick), multiplied by the number of steps I take, determines how far I walk each day. Also required was a suggested daily activity goal (in steps). That stumped me. Very healthy, very active friends of mine routinely achieve 10,000 steps (five miles)every day. That goal was laughable for me. In truth, any walking goal is equally ridiculous. Given the unpredictability of my symptoms, my true goal is to do whatever I can — if and when I can. But I had to choose some number, and 3,000 seemed as good as any. I could always adjust it later.

After stretching my unconditioned leg muscles and chugging half a bottle of water, I put my phone in my pocket and set out to walk. The conditions were perfect. It was late morning, which is my most energetic time of day. The weather was warm but not hot, and the sun shone (my greatest motivator). Also, I was walking with a friend. That always adds to the pleasure of a walk for me, but it can also be dangerous. I tend to get so involved in conversations that I forget how long and how far I’ve walked. To most people, more is always better, so this is typically more of a positive than a negative. However, for folks with fibromyalgia, more can be worse, causing increases in pain and fatigue that don’t appear until the next day.

Given the situation, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when after my walk my new Stepz app indicated 3,548 steps, or 1.5 miles. Although very tired, I also felt proud of my accomplishment. It’s difficult to describe how bad I felt the following day. What I will admit is that Stepz didn’t register above 400.

Not to be deterred, I now had some good information. I knew how many steps were way too much, and I knew the amount I walked on a very bad day. My next task was to calculate that magic number in the middle — the perfect amount of exercise for me.

I tracked my normal activities. Grocery shopping is a big one for me. Typically, it leaves me feeling like a Boston Marathoner after the race. Surprisingly, I learned that on a day of shopping, and unloading and putting groceries away (then collapsing onto the couch), I walked less than 500 steps. That didn’t seem fair. I felt I deserved at least 500 more for my exhaustion! Even more strangely, a day of doing laundry and various chores around the house measured closer to 800 steps and didn’t even produce exhaustion. In time, I noticed that I had roughly as many days that averaged 400 steps as I had that measured 1,400 steps. So, I averaged the two to determine that I walked roughly 900 steps a day. I next walked around the block. That alone measured 1,600 steps. Because my goal was to do that walk as often as possible, I added 1,600 to my daily average of 900 and had a new goal of 2,500 steps a day.

I’m happy with that. During the past month, I’ve had roughly as many days above my goal as I’ve had below it. My healthy, active friends would laugh if they knew my numbers. But I’m not competing with them or with anybody else. I’m just doing what I can — if and when I can. So, 2,500 is a realistic goal for me. I may need to tweak it in the future. But for now, it gives me great satisfaction to see 2,501 at the end of the day


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