I’m celebrating a walking milestone 8 years in the making

Having an in-home treadmill has helped me stay motivated to exercise

Mike Naple avatar

by Mike Naple |

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The springtime is when I miss running the most — when the weather starts to warm a little and folks lace up their shoes, go outside, and get a boost of endorphins.

Save for one scary moment in 2021, I don’t run anymore. Not since I left the hospital in 2016 with a diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension (PH), a chronic, progressive disease that affects the heart and lungs. Sometimes living with PH feels like I’m a fish struggling to breathe out of water, which makes it difficult to compete in a 5K. I even refrain from running to catch the bus I take to and from work because of the shortness of breath and chest tightness that will result. Better to just wait for another one to roll by.

Running offered me a time to reflect

I was never all that fast of a runner, and speed never mattered much to me. I’ve run on the beaches of California, along lakes in the Adirondacks, through college campuses, and on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. There is something about the singularity of running that drew me to it. As a solo act, running allowed me to go at my own speed, and choose when, where, how long, and how far to push myself. Turning on the afterburners and sprinting that last distance before cooling down at the end is a rush I sometimes wish I could still chase.

Running offered a certain sense of alone time that I don’t always have these days. Whether running outdoors or indoors on a treadmill, I could turn off the day-to-day noise, lose myself in a “workout mix” on my iPod (remember those?) and reflect on any number of life’s big questions. After my diagnosis, when exercising was much less frequent, not only was I not moving as much, but I also lost those moments of reflection. I won’t pretend like I was running five miles daily before my diagnosis, but it’s still hard not to mourn something that is now gone.

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Exercise is beneficial to PH patients

Post-diagnosis, my pulmonologist prescribed a three-month course of pulmonary rehabilitation that would strengthen my lung muscles, help my body recover, and improve my quality of life. During the rehab sessions, I would exercise wearing a cannula, which provided oxygen to ensure I didn’t desaturate too much as I went from station to station. Instead of running, the respiratory nurses would have us walk on a treadmill, very slowly at first and for only a few minutes as we built up our strength and endurance. Even though I was able to walk a little farther each session, it was no run in the park. I couldn’t help wondering if this glacial pace was my new speed for the foreseeable future.

There’s plenty of information available to educate patients about why varying amounts of exercise, in consultation with a doctor, are beneficial for those of us with PH. I’ve written about the six-minute walk tests that measure a patient’s exercise capacity. I always see the distance results as a yardstick indicator about how PH might be affecting my body on that specific day. If the distance walked at that appointment is less than what I walked three or four months ago, my doctor and I will discuss what this might mean for my treatment plan going forward.

Eleven out of 10 times my doctor will remind me about the importance of regular exercise because I do actually need the reminders. Required exercise when I can’t run for pleasure feels more like eating your vegetables with no hope for dessert.

A milestone eight years in the making

My exercise cadence has improved, and I have my partner to thank for it. After we moved to a new apartment in 2021, he led the charge to get an in-home treadmill because he knows that I’m 1) a little stubborn and 2) need to be more active.

I do my best to walk on the treadmill weekly. I lace up my running shoes, put in my AirPods, turn on my portable oxygen concentrator, set the timer for 30 minutes, and commence walking. Maybe I was being cautious, but over the years on the treadmill, I never crossed the one-mile mark. It’s wild to me that I probably hadn’t gone a whole mile since I was able to actually run one more than eight years ago.

Maybe spring was in the air, because on March 23, I felt the old urge to reignite those afterburners ever so slowly. I blew through the timer, kept walking, and officially passed the one-mile mark! A new milestone!

Readers, how do you stay motivated to exercise, and what milestones are you celebrating this spring?

Follow me on X: @mnaple.

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


Aunt Lizzie avatar

Aunt Lizzie

I loved your Post of this 8-mile milestone. I was diagnosed with "severe" PH and heart failure in 2012. It was a shock but after almost 20 years trying to find out what was wrong with me and steadily getting worse, I was relieved it wasn't cancer. You see, all my family died relatively young of cancer, so what a relief - eh? Well I have now spent the last 12 years faithfully swallowing my little pink pill every morning, putting my oxy conc on every night, and giving my specialists a hard time when they want to prescribe something else or more. I have never been a runner, but a walker and wanderer, and even the hills of San Francisco can't stop me. I find walking backwards every now and again is helpful and less stressful. On the flat I can walk forever - my cardiologist says I am unusual, so be it. I have my days of overwhelming fatigue, but not too often. Exercise ! Yes, that's a lifesaver. I found rehab truly helpful. I am in Australia and thank goodness we have a pretty good health system so I am not fighting the system or insurance companies to get what I need. Love your turn of phrase. Stay well and keep on keeping on! Cheers


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