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It’s a known fact that sitting down all day is bad for us and this especially true for those of us with scoliosis – personally I find that my back hurts a lot more and feels much stiffer if I don’t move around regularly. Walking is a fantastic way for most people with scoliosis to stay in shape as it doesn’t put too much pressure on the back and over time it can help to keep the back and core strong, which can help to protect the discs in lumbar spine and reduce pain. This is vital if, like me, you have had spinal fusion, as staying fit and strong can help to prevent disc wear and tear below the fusion. Walking can even help with losing weight, which inadvertently may help to reduce back pain over time by reducing the amount of pressure on the spine.
Now, I have always considered myself pretty active and it is because of my scoliosis that I try to go to the gym 3-4 times a week, but the problem is that (like a lot of people) I drive to work and then I work in an office and so I’m sat down for the majority of the day Monday – Friday, which does not help my back or core muscles at all.
So, in a bid to move more, in January this year I bought myself a Fitbit Charge HR. The reason I bought the HR version initially was not to purely monitor my steps, but to also monitor my heart rate at the gym, as I wanted to make sure my heart rate was in the right “zone” for working out and I wanted to know how far I could safely push myself to get fitter. The HR version also monitors your sleep which is pretty cool.
As soon as I started using it though, I got addicted to counting my steps and it came as a bit of a shock to see how few steps I actually did in a day. I knew that sitting down all day in an office was bad for my back and that I did most of my activity after work, but having my Fitbit really highlighted how bleak my average daily step count was.
With the Fitbit you can set yourself a step goal for each day, and the recommended number of steps is 10,000 per day (about 5 miles). What became quickly apparent, was that in an average work day, I was struggling to even reach 3,000 steps, plus I had long periods of time throughout the day where I was inactive.
I find that having my Fitbit on really does encourage me to get up and move around more often at work, even if it’s just to go and make a cup of tea or walk the longer way back to my desk. I now make sure that I go for a 30 minute walk everyday at lunchtime and I go to the gym after work everyday if I can. I find that if I can do these two things, I usually meet my 10,000 a day step goal quite easily in the week and I can often get up to 15K steps on a “gym day” depending on what I do (the Fitbit doesn’t record steps for things like indoor cycling or spin classes).
What’s worrying though, is that in an average work week, if I DON’T go for a walk at lunchtime or go to the gym I will get around 2-3K steps in a day, which I think is pretty poor. If I go for a 30 minute walk at lunchtime but don’t go to the gym I will get around 6K steps, which is better but still a far cry from the recommended 10K. This is worrying because the majority of office workers will be in the same boat and probably getting around 3-4K steps a day, which is not even half of what they should be getting. I think it highlights that, for people with sedentary jobs like myself, you really do have to make a conscious effort to fit exercise into your daily routine.
I’ll be honest, having my pitiful step count on my wrist and on the app (especially when compared to my friends who have more active jobs) really does push me to go for a walk everyday at lunchtime, or head out for a walk/run at the weekends, even if it’s cold or raining! Whereas pre-Fitbit, on an average workday I would have happily worked through lunch or just sat at my desk, in my car or in the kitchen at work to eat my lunch, which would not have done anything to help me or my back.
I do find that getting 10,000 steps is much easier for me at the weekends, I usually find that a 90 minute walk does the job nicely and this can be fitted in fairly easily. What’s interesting though, is how many steps I do when I’m out shopping at the weekend, out for the day, or away on holiday – for example, it’s not unusual for me to do up to 25,000 steps a day when I’m out shopping, which goes to show how bad office work can be (I now use it as an excuse to go shopping at the weekends!)
Another good thing about the Fitbit, is the fantastic app which features a dashboard of your daily stats and some challenges (workweek hustle, weekend warrior and goal day), so you can basically compete with friends to get the most steps in a day, work week or weekend. I must admit this really brings out my competitive side and I have often found myself walking/running up and down the corridor of my flat or running furiously on the treadmill at the gym to get more steps and win the challenges (or just not come last)!! Plus, competing with friends and earning the various Fitbit trophies and badges that are on offer also helps with keeping motivated.
I would go as far to say that my Fitbit has been once of the best things I’ve bought this year, it’s changed my life and sadly I think I would find it difficult to live without it now, or particularly to exercise without it – I feel a bit lost if I’m not wearing it and I hate having to take it off to charge it.
If you are into running, it’s also fantastic for that as the HR Fitbit also monitors your heart rate and can be used in conjunction with apps like Runkeeper.
If you don’t fancy splashing out on a Fitbit there are also plenty of free apps out there that count your steps. The health apps that come free with most smartphones now are pretty good and will do the job nicely, for example the iPhone Health app, the only downside is that you need to remember to have your phone on you all the time.
There are also Fitbits that will simply track your steps, so if you’re not bothered about the sleep tracking and the heart rate monitor that come with the HR Fitbits, these are an alternative lower cost option. There are of course lots of other fitness trackers out there, my advice would be to do your research and get the one that looks right for you.
Why not give it a go and see just how many steps you do in a day?
You could start by using an app on your phone – it may just surprise you. I guarantee walking more (if you can) will help you to feel fitter and stronger, which may help your back pain over time as you get stronger :-). One word of warning though – getting your daily step goal can become highly addictive!!
If you are new to walking or struggle with walking, even just improving a bit on what you do now each day will help. The Mayo Clinic recommend adding 1000 daily steps each week, so if you start monitoring your steps and find you are doing 4000 steps per day now, simply set your goal at 5000 steps each day. I know increasing my daily steps has helped me and I’m definitely more active and feel fitter now than before I started tracking my steps.
Also, if you’ve recently had scoliosis surgery it’s important to try and move around as much as possible and I think that having a fitness tracker could help with that. I’m not suggesting you try and do 10,000 steps early on in your recovery as that will be far too much at first but it’s important to try and walk a bit each day in the first few months post surgery and make sure you move around the house frequently if you can – whatever feels comfortable for you. I say this because when I was recovering from scoliosis surgery I actually developed Oedema in my leg because I was sat down too much and not moving enough. So it’s important to try and keep moving during recovery, even if it’s just a little bit when you can to limit the chance of developing Oedema or something more serious (such as a blood clot). You can read more about my recovery from scoliosis surgery here.
P.S In case you are interested, the Fitbit I have is the one below (I have it in purple :)). I bought mine from Argos in the sale but they are cheaper on Amazon at the moment. If you already have a Fitbit and want to challenge me please do contact me and I’ll add you on there :0)
Get some decent trainers!
It’s important to note just before I go, that whilst walking can be a great, low impact way for me to stay in shape post spinal fusion, it’s also important that I protect the un-fused lower discs in my back (L3 and below, as I’m fused T3-L3) and avoid putting too much strain on them.
As an extra precaution, if I’m walking long distances I usually wear my Skechers memory foam trainers, which I originally bought to do the Cancer Research 26 mile Shine Walk a couple of years back (I now have two pairs!) I love them because they are sooo comfy and the memory foam helps to absorb some of the impact, which I find helps with the lower back pain I sometimes get after walking long distances. Plus, I think that they look great too as there are lots of vibrant colours and designs to choose from. I really can’t recommend memory foam trainers enough if you have scoliosis or suffer from low back pain – I don’t think I could go back to wearing “non-memory foam” trainers now.
You can buy the Skechers memory foam trainers from any Skechers store but they are also available from Amazon and tend to be much cheaper online in general.
Keep on movin’
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing or starting a new fitness routine.
I had scoliosis surgery in 2010 and blog about my experiences living with scoliosis. My aim is to raise awareness of scoliosis and help and inspire others with the condition.