Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Fitbit

I can't remember the whole context of the conversation, but someone recently made a comment to me about Fitbits and personal fitness trackers. It was something along the lines of 'and these people who wear these wrist band things and are constantly checking on their fitness all the time...' The person wasn't so impressed with the idea of fitness trackers and disapproved of them. I found my eyes casting down towards my wrist and staring at the Fitbit I was wearing. Should I be embarassed I'm a Fitbit wearer and admiit that I'm actually quite a big fan of the fitness tracker? I'm not totally obsessed with my Fitbit, but my fitness is important to me, however limited I become and I've found my Fitbit a very useful tool to measure what I'm up to. 

I bought my Fitbit at the airport a couple of years after my heart and double lung transplant, we were en route to Rome. We were about to embark on a three week trip around Europe. Rob and I enjoy visiting cities and I'd always been curious about how far we actually walk when we are exploring - I always thought it may be much further than I imagined. That was my main motivation for buying it, together with the fact I'd just returned from taking part in the British Transplant Games and keen to build up my fitness even more, was trying to aim to walk the NHS recommended 10K steps per day to help me. I thought the Fitbit would help me to track this target. 

On the holiday, I found that yes, we did walk far more than I might have guessed, exploring museums, galleries, parks, shops and ambling around streets and I had a great headstart on my new 10K per day target. Way exceeding this target most days, I returned from holiday feeling fit and well and quite pleased with myself and determined to try and keep up my 10K steps using my Fitbit to track my progress. 

Recently there's been research and press reports suggesting that 10K steps per day may be too many steps for some and may be dangerous to their health and fitness. Well that's just common sense surely? If you you've been unwell and recovering from an illness or an operation then it may not be sensible thing - things need to be taken more slowly. Having been chronically and terminally ill before my transplant I know that the 10K steps wouldn't ever have been achievable for me then. It was still important to walk, move around and keep as fit as possible in order to withstand the ongoing challenges of poor physical health though.

After my holiday, wanting to maintain that healthy holiday feel, I continued with my 10K steps target and using my Fitbit tracker to keep a measure of how I was doing. I tried to motivate myself with new ways to achieve it and even decided to have a dog, so I had no excuses to stop me walking every day. Before Ted, my cocker spaniel arrived though, my health took a dip and my 10K step target dwindled away while I was poorly for a few months with CMV virus and then recovering afterwards.  

The Fitbit became really useful in helping me gauge how far I could manage to walk, it helped me readjust targets and aim for more as I recovered and started to get back on my feet again. It helped motivate me in recovery, as I could see a difference in how much I was walking each week and over each month. 

I was lucky to find myself back to full fitness, with Ted my cocker spaniel in tow, smashing the 10K steps together and becoming the strongest I'd been for years. My lung function on my regular clinic visits had always been pretty good, at 90%, but suddenly my tests were showing 100% lung function, which was totally amazing after what had been a big setback and for someone who'd undergone a lung transplant. 

Although I managed to achieve this, there were to be more trials and tribulations with my health unfortunately due to the virus that originally set me back. It reactivated and led to a period of acute rejections with pseudonoma infections. With my new lungs now damaged and working at 75% it was back to the drawing board once again. I used my Fitbit to challenge myself with new adjusted and lowered targets aiming to build myself up slowly but surely. I hadn't managed to improve on this when I caught a bad bout of flu alongside a form of infectious pneumonia.

This time recovery has been a long slow road - there had been too much strain on my lungs this time coming on top of the previous acute rejections and organising pneumonia, which my lungs are still and were at this time being treated for on top of the new problems.  My lungs were completely struggling and the doctors didn't either bother to measure my lung function while I was in hospital, as I couldn't even breathe properly let alone do blows for tests. There were no steps happening, but the Fitbit was actually useful as a watch as time ticked away in the room I'd been isolated in. I was even surprised when I realised how much I'd actually been using it purely as a watch all this time. 

During these periods of illness and dependance on higher doses of steroids, my sleep was poor, often interupted and I was suffering from insomnia. The Fitbit helped me gauge my sleep patterns and see that as I improved, my sleeping although not perfect was improving. Again, this was reassuring and encouraging. 

A few months on and it's felt a slow progress, but using the Fitbit, I can see in black and white how far I've come. After about a month at home, I was managing around 1K steps a day and 7K steps a week, only a fraction of what I'd been used to, but it was something and a good start. I figured the more I could move, the more I could help clear my lungs of infection and help them to work again. Weeks on and I could see this improve more and more - another month and I was managing 2K to 3K steps a day, around 17K steps a week, undertaking small walks and activities over the day. 

This helped me confirm in my mind that things were improving, that I was actually making some progress - sometimes it's hard to see how you are doing because of the frustration of not being able to do what you could once manage. It can feel one step forward and ten steps back on a bad day. A few months on and I'd built my lung function up to 40%, which was still very limiting with breathlessness, but I was walking again and managing to be out and about with family and friends and I was so grateful for that and encouraged and motivated by the fact that there was some improvement. 

Following some further additions and tweaks in medications I was back in clinic this week to see how I'm getting on. Fortunately following a few medication changes I'd been feeling better still and able to do more and using my Fitbit data I was able to say I'd gone from only being able to do a thousand steps or so each day to now being able to do 4K steps on most days and had done 28K over the last week. I was delighted when my lung function results reflected an improvement too and showed my lung function had increased and is at 50% function now. 

There is still a way to go yet back to fitness yet, my consultant has explained that it's unlikely I will be able to reach the high lung function I once had, but we are all encouraged there's a significant improvement and I'm going to carry on using my Fitbit to help me increase my walking further if I can and hopefully in turn push my lungs further and squeeze that extra bit more from them. For me, I've found that using a Fitbit has been a very positive thing. 

What are your thoughts on Fitbits? 

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