Counting My Steps Saved My Mental Health

Eleanor Bird avatar

by Eleanor Bird |

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Lots of people count their steps using a Fitbit device or their phone, but for me it has been a total lifeline. 

Being less active during lockdown made me worry that my fitness had declined and that I had generally deconditioned. Putting on a bit of weight and losing some muscle tone might not be a big deal for the average person, as they’ll bounce back fairly quickly, but for someone living with a chronic illness like pulmonary hypertension (PH), it’s not necessarily that easy.

Not only do I worry about my physical health, but being less active has affected me emotionally and mentally. I have felt sluggish and unmotivated, and am often ashamed when I feel like I haven’t moved my body enough in a day. 

Pre-COVID-19, I got a lot of my exercise in simply by living a busy and active life in which I walked, cycled, and traveled to work and to see friends — so I’ve found it difficult to carve out time to do home workouts during lockdown. And working out at home is a little grueling and dull.

Exercise is a complex issue for anyone living with PH, and for me it has been associated with a lot of fear. I have been known to push myself too far and have even had some traumatic experiences of syncope during exercise. Since my diagnosis I’ve found it difficult to find the right balance between staying fit and not overworking my body.

Enter step counting! Now that I’m able to go out walking again (provided I keep my distance from people) it’s so much easier to stay active in a way that’s not too strenuous. Working toward a daily step target has provided motivation and a sense of achievement. 

In trying to walk upward of 10,000 steps a day, I have so much more energy, I sleep better, and I feel happier. Consistent activity also helps with water retention, which can be a PH symptom.

Of course I still have days when I feel fatigued and walking to the kitchen and back is my biggest achievement, but logging my daily activity means I can monitor this and make up for it in the following days.

It’s also helpful in tracking some of my symptoms. If I feel particularly exhausted on a day when I only walked 3,000 steps, I reflect on this: Did I do something different? Did I eat more salt or take my medication at a different time?

Ultimately, the use of targets and the ability to review my activity is both motivating and reassuring. I can concretely see that I’m doing something good for my health and that sets my mind at ease. Besides, there’s nothing better than rounding off a day of working from home by putting your headphones on, blasting your favorite song, and going for a power walk. 


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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