There was a recurring theme in some of my dreams when I was younger…I’d try to run, but despite my best efforts, I was unable to make any forward progress. It was never a situation where I was running away from something, more like I was trying to run toward something. I’d get frustrated, trying to move my legs faster, but I would seem to be running in place. After some period of frustration, it would hit me…I’d remember that I could fly, I just needed to use my arms.
Flying dreams were the best. I’m certain these dreams were inspired by my having watched the Greatest American Hero TV show at an impressionable age. Thankfully, my flights did not require a special form fitting body suit provided by aliens. Let’s face it, even by dream standards, that would be weird.
Since being diagnosed with PD in 2014, I’ve had the pleasure to meet individuals who have lived with Parkinson’s for 10 to 20 years, and even longer. The common theme for living well with PD is regular exercise and staying active. PD may be a life sentence, but it is far from being a death sentence.
Think of exercise as your most important prescription, something that you need to make time for almost every day. Exercise is more important than any medication, but medication is often necessary or helpful to maximize your ability to exercise.
At the recent World Parkinson Congress 2016, the main theme that I noticed is that exercise is the best medicine for PD. It may not be as effective at treating PD symptoms as l-dopa, but all the research and anecdotal evidence clearly shows that collectively, those who exercise regularly enjoy a far better quality of life with PD, for a longer period of time, as compared to those who do not. While medical research continues to be important, the best thing that can be done for the growing number of People with Parkinson’s (PwP) today is to encourage exercise.
There is a growing consensus that more exercise is better, and there is concern that many PwP are being given outdated or incomplete exercise recommendations.
Here are a few key quotes for his lessons learned:
What have I learned?
Firstly, don’t accept the limitations others may predict, assume, or recommend because of Parkinson’s disease. I don’t, and won’t, accept that my physical capacity is any less than that of anyone else. Parkinson’s disease has been an inconvenience, not an obstacle, for strenuous, physical activity…
I’ve been working hard to regain the strength in my right arm that Parkinson’s took away from me. I’m making progress. Weight training is a key ingredient in these efforts. It is important to stress that vigorous exercise is not all about cardio, in fact, weight training is a key component.
More specifically, I’m referring to weight training as a progressive resistance exercise. This is a strength training method in which the load is gradually increased to allow muscles to adapt. The body adapts to exercise and needs to be constantly challenged in order to continue to grow and change. Essentially, this is the same basic concept we talk about with vigorous exercise, always pushing your limits.
As time progresses, you’re increasing the weight, increasing the number of repetitions between rests, increasing the number of sets, and/or adding additional exercises to target complimentary muscles.
Without a doubt, PD (and aging in general) makes this harder to achieve. But every small increase confirms that you’re getting stronger. And over time, those small increases can add up to something significant.
A few years ago, Dr. Daniel Corcos, with the University of Illinois at Chicago, led a 2 year randomized controlled trial of Parkinson’s which compared the effects of weight training vs. more general flexibility, strength and balance exercises. The conclusions were clear: