Let me start by saying that I am not a neurologist. I am not a medical doctor or a researcher. I am, like many of you reading this, just a regular, old person with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Since my diagnosis 3.5 years ago, I have experienced a myriad of emotions, ranging from initial desperation to seasoned acceptance. A big part of that acceptance procedure was educating myself on every aspect of PD. I mustered every bit of strength to throw everything I had at this thing called Parkinson’s.
Denial was, albeit, the most difficult phase of my acceptance. How could this happen to me? I have been healthy most of my life. Heck, I ran 10 consecutive Peachtree Road Races. I was a marathon runner. I ran eight 26.2-mile races, a host of half-marathons and a bunch of 5K and 10K races. So, how could Parkinson’s invade my life? The question I should have been asking instead is “why not me?” Once I came to that realization, acceptance was much easier and I made it priority to stop bemoaning my unfortunate path and just move ahead.
One thing became increasingly clear on this journey. Parkinson’s is not a disease for which you sit idly by. Of course, follow his or her advice, take medication and it will help you. In the book, “The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity,” Dr. Norman Doidge states that the emphasis of treating patients only with medication has the psychological effect of rendering patients more passive in dealing with an illness that in itself can promote passivity. Often, people with PD take their medication and wait for a better one to come along, but we can do more. Yes, it is important that you listen to your neurologist, but you need to partner with him or her for your medical health. You share in the responsibility for our own wellbeing and I encourage anyone with PD reading this to not just fall into “place” ― do more.
We must take control of our destiny ― although it is a destiny different than what we imagined. Reliance on medication alone may, in fact, hasten our deterioration. The best way for any of us to minimize the effects of our disease is physical exertion ― exercise. Exercise is not optional for people with Parkinson’s. It is MANDATORY!
I find it difficult to understand that even with the emergence of research that proves the fact that exercise helps minimize symptoms of PD, that people don’t. We take the ability to walk for granted. And, the nature of life in the U.S. these days is that people would rather ride in a car than walk anyway. We have deliberately taken a sedentary lifestyle. With Parkinson’s, we simply cannot afford to.
I exercise as much as I can. Yes, I still suffer from tremor, but since my diagnosis, I have been exercising and — knock on wood — have yet to experience any other symptoms of the disease. It is my charter now, my way of life. My new normal, so to speak. I sincerely encourage each of you with PD to find your new normal. Don’t let this thing called Parkinson’s stop you.
For information on exercise classes for people with Parkinson’s, call the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline at 1-800-4PD-Info (473-4636) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.