Chronic Migraine, Exercise, Triggers

Pedometer Apps: Highlighting My Substandard Exercise Acheivements

Exercising outside is one of the most enticing parts of summer in Seattle. To avoid triggering a migraine attack, I wanted to keep my exertion level about the same as it has been on the treadmill at home, so I downloaded some pedometer apps for my phone.

How demoralizing! These apps are designed to encourage healthy people whose only obstacle is a lack of motivation to get moving. They aren’t intended for someone who desperately wants to exercise more, but has to be very careful not to overdo it. The app I used first has a preset goal of 10,000 steps a day with a scale indicating what my level of fitness is.* After 2,200 steps, that scale still declares me “sedentary.” Trust me, I KNOW I’m sedentary and that walking a 20 minute mile doesn’t constitute impressive exercise. I don’t need an app to remind me that the best I can do right now is substandard.

Instead of feeling good about the one mile that I walked — and the beautiful view of Lake Washington that I glimpsed — I came home nearly in tears. I want to be physically fit. I want to walk 10,000 steps a day. I want to leave a yoga class with my muscles aching. I want to run for miles. Yet, what I want and what my body can currently handle are not in alignment.

Couch-to-5k? A hardcore seven-minute high-intensity interval workout? I’m there. Well, I would be if my body didn’t react with a migraine that would lead to at least three days on the couch. Trying harder, exerting more is a perfectly fine option for a lot of people. For me, it’s counterproductive.

I’ve (mostly) let go of the belief that having chronic migraine means my body is broken. Carrying around that sense of betrayal constantly highlighted what was lacking in my life and my body. Rather than dwell on what I can’t do, I try to revel in what I can do. That works most of the time. Then I use an app that reminds me that even though I’m exerting myself at my current maximum, my effort — and perhaps my very self — is deficient.

*I know these apps are intended to count one’s total daily steps and I’m only using them for active exercise. If I carried my phone around with me constantly and saw the steps around the house add up, I’d either be pleasantly surprised or even more dismayed. I choose ignorance.

4 thoughts on “Pedometer Apps: Highlighting My Substandard Exercise Acheivements”

  1. Thanks for the suggestions. Was just trying to not overdo it. Now that I have a path figured out, I no longer need the app. It’ll be months before I can exercise outdoors after I return to Phoenix!

  2. I’m sorry the experience affected you so negatively. I haven’t tried any of these apps. I recently had a talk with my PT about exercise. She recommended something not goal oriented, that I could fall into without worrying about how I do it or how far I go-like walking or swimming or biking. This was compared to a yoga class where I said I often felt bad watching others do what I used to do. Perhaps leave the app, and any judgement, at home and just enjoy the lake and views alone!

  3. Totally preaching to the choir. My old roommate had the fitbit (she was in her 30s and has Down’s) and it really helped her get motivated to move more. That is until she washed it with her jeans one day! Oops! But the Fitbit totally rocks!

  4. Hi Kerrie,

    I’m sorry you had such a demoralizing experience with those pedometer apps. I had started using iPhone apps as well, but did not like that I had to be wearing the phone all the time (and have those apps drain my phone battery the whole time). So I got a little Fitbit Zip (

    Its small size makes it easy to wear all day and I don’t have to have an iPhone app running all the time. It synchronizes with an iPhone app via Bluetooth. The app is pleasant to use and cheerful and unlike the apps you have tried, you can set goals that YOU can achieve. It won’t label you sedentary.

    Milestones are celebrated, no matter at what pace you reach them (it keeps track of the number of steps / distance you travelled since you first started using the Fitbit).

    I am not a chronic migraineur, but my wife is. She has been using a Nike+ Fuel Band ( and really likes it. It is different from the Fitbit Zip in a few ways:

    1. It measures more than just steps. Any movement counts towards your “fuel”.
    2. It has a gorgeous colour LED display which in addition to displaying your progress can be used as a watch.
    3. Reaching your goal is celebrated with cute animations on the LED display.

    Like the Fitbit Zip it synchronizes via Bluetooth to the Nike app. You can set your own goals. There are even more elaborate animations in the iPhone app to celebrate your goals.

    There are other similar products out there but those are the ones my family has tried and is happier for it.

    I believe in celebrating all achievements in life, be they big or small. The apps you have tried have failed you, but there are other products out there that are worth trying. The Fitbit and Nike+ Fuelband did the trick for us.

    Thank you Kerrie for your great blog.


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