“My person with Parkinson’s won’t do anything. I can’t get them to exercise, and I don’t know what to do.”

Is your exercise routine stuck in the mud?

The Davis Phinney Foundation (DPF) has an article on their website that is an interesting read. Apparently, one of the most common questions they receive from friends and care partners of people with Parkinson’s is this:

“My person with Parkinson’s won’t do anything. I can’t get them to exercise, and I don’t know what to do.”

If that is the situation that you find yourself in, I can appreciate the sense of desperation and the desire to help. However, if you truly want to help, begin with some self-examination.

If your friend or partner overhears you making a statement like this, you may actually be discouraging them. By complaining that they won’t do anything, you may be reinforcing the negativity that they already feel.

About a month ago, I wrote an article about Parkinson’s and nagging:

My thoughts have evolved a little since then. At the time, I concluded that nagging to encourage exercise and physical activity was an acceptable justification for nagging. But I think I need to add a caveat: Nagging may be helpful to encourage a regular exerciser to sustain exercise, but it is extremely unlikely to motivate a non-exerciser to get out and exercise.

I’m not normally one for quoting biblical scripture, because I think that people have a tendency to quote scripture out of context, bending and twisting it in ways that are often questionable.

But, a few years ago, our pastor did a sermon around Ephesians 4:29, and a cutout of this passage has been posted on our refrigerator door for years now:

Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.

It does not matter whether or not you are a person of Christian faith, this advice is extremely profound, especially in the context of encouraging a person with Parkinson’s to exercise.

My advice to care partners facing the challenge of encouraging exercise is to pay attention to the words that you use and the tone. The statement at the beginning of this article is discouraging and maybe even condescending. Undoubtedly, the statement is born from frustration, and a true to desire to help…but the words are tearing a person down, not building them up.

I understand that these particular words are not being directed to the person with Parkinson’s directly…and I’m probably making a mountain out of a mole hill…but I just want to make the point that as a care partner or friend, please accept that coping with a Parkinson’s diagnosis is challenging (for you, as well, we know). The best way to encourage activity (with words) is to remind yourself to use words that build up, not tear down.

There is a lot of great advice in the DPF article that will help if you are facing this situation, and I encourage you to read it. But, I’d also like to share a few additional thoughts.

Another way to encourage physical activity is by example. Care partners need exercise too. As the disease progresses, they may find they have less time for themselves, and neglect their own health. If you want to encourage your partner or friend to exercise, set a good example. It may also be helpful to look for physical activities that you can do together. Many group exercise classes welcome care partner participation. Make time to walk together, or bicycle, tennis, etc.

Group exercise classes can be very motivating for two reasons. Instructors will push you to exercise in ways the you would not on your own, providing a more complete workout. It is also an opportunity to interact with people facing many of the same challenges, but who are taking an active role in trying to improve their quality of life. Friendships and camaraderie will make the class an activity that you enjoy, and finding a way to enjoy physical activity is key to sustaining participation over the long term.

It is daunting making those first few visits to a Parkinson’s group exercise class. And you might be surprised at one of the reasons why people are hesitant. They don’t like to say it out loud, but many are afraid that they will be seeing their future through other people whose Parkinson’s has further progressed. If those thoughts are in your head, that’s ok…the future is very uncertain. But, give it a chance, because you might actually find it inspiring. Years ago, I was inspired by videos posted about the Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) program at their headquarters in Indianapolis. When I went out there for training to get certified as an RSB coach, it was motivating to get to meet some of these people I’d seen in videos, who were still at it, years later.

Personal trainers and physical therapists are also a good idea, because some one-to-one attention is important for identifying specific areas that you need to work on.

But I’m getting off point…

If you are trying to encourage someone that you care about to exercise, don’t tell them what to do. Have a dialog with them. Encourage them to open up about their thoughts and concerns. Listen. And when you do speak, try to remember to use words that build up, rather than tear down.

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