Exercise is Medicine-Especially for Parkinson’s Disease

What do you think of when you hear the term “Parkinson’s Disease”? Do you think of hand tremors? Do you picture an elderly person, perhaps a grandfather? Although hand tremors are a common symptom of Parkinson’s, and the disease is more likely to affect people 60 and older, there is much more to PD than you may realize.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra. Symptoms generally develop slowly over years. The progression of symptoms is different from one person to another. People with PD may experience tremors, mainly at rest. Slowness of movements (bradykinesia). limb rigidity, gait and balance problems are also symptoms of PD. Non-motor symptoms can include apathy, depression, constipation, sleep behavior disorders, loss of sense of smell, and cognitive impairment.

According to the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, while the average age at onset is 60, people have been diagnosed as young as 18. There is no objective test, or biomarker, for Parkinson’s disease, so the rate of misdiagnosis can be relatively high. Estimates of the number of people living with the disease therefore vary, but research indicates that at least one million people in the United States, and more than five million worldwide, have Parkinson’s disease. That is more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease (or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).

Although there is no cure for the disease and the exact cause is unknown, we do know both environmental and genetic factors play a role. Research is ongoing to learn more about the disease, treatments, and someday a cure. Current medications help to manage symptoms. Surgery, known as Deep Brain Stimulation, can help to reduce tremors. Another way to manage symptoms is through exercise. Although more research is needed on how exercise reduces symptoms, or if it actually slows the progression of the disease, we do know that exercise is good for everyone for a variety of reasons.

Exercise can improve daily function such as getting out of bed, standing up from a chair, or dressing oneself. Exercise also improves balance. As a matter of fact, it is the only thing that can improve balance. Medications do not help, and often can increase balance problems. Exercise improves strength which we need for daily activities such as carrying groceries or picking up children or grandchildren. Exercise improves endurance. Exercise improves flexibility. It is difficult to bend down to tie your shoes or reach around for the seat belt in your car without it. We also know that regular exercise helps to lower blood pressure, reduce blood glucose levels in those with diabetes, improve mood to reduce depression and anxiety, and improve sleep.

These improvements will not just help those with Parkinson’s, but almost all of us. So why wouldn’t we prescribe exercise? Prescription medications are necessary, but exercise is medicine as well…without side effects. This time of year, exercise becomes a priority for many Americans as they make New Year’s Resolutions. For people with PD, exercise isn’t just a resolution. It is a necessity. I once heard a Neurologist say, “If I had PD and had to leave my career, my job would be to exercise every day.” That is how important exercise is to those with Parkinson’s Disease, and why we say Exercise IS Medicine.

 

 

Do What You Love

At the end of each year, I take time to reflect on what I did this year and how my business did. I will admit, 2017 was full of distractions and derailments. I became very passionate about injustices that were all around me. I always have been passionate, but this was the year when I started to take action. As important as that was to me, it did distract me from business matters and sometimes even from family matters. I had to take a step back and refocus on my business and my well-being.

Recently, I started to lament the fact that I wasn’t making as much money as I needed to be making. I love helping people. I love helping people live healthier, more functional lives. I’m definitely not looking at putting all of my “extra money” in off shore accounts! I’m more concerned about my account around the corner at the local bank. I’m a problem solver, so when I don’t like the way something is going I feel like I need to fix it. There lies the problem. In fixing the fact that I’m not making the money I need to be making, my brain automatically starts going into what I call “failure mode”. This is the mode that many of us who were not encouraged or told we would succeed in life reset to. I’m not parent blaming, but it takes work to overcome negative messages we were given growing up. The “failure mode” in my brain started to send message of, “you’re not successful”, “quit what you’re doing and find a ‘real’ job”, etc, etc.

I can proudly say that I don’t stay in that failure mode for very long. I’ve practiced for many years shutting that system off. Instead, I started thinking of more ways that I could help the people I’m helping now and others like them who I am not currently reaching. You see, I’m not in this career to get rich. I’m here to help others. I love the quote by Mark Twain,

“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

I love and enjoy what I do. Some days it seems like hard work, but other days it doesn’t seem like work at all. I’m a caregiver all around…for my clients, for my elderly mom, for my rescue dogs, even sometimes for my husband! I’m not rolling in money, I can’t take lavish vacations, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

As the holidays approach, I’ve been wishing my clients and class participants Happy Holidays. I may not see some of them for a week or two during break. Some are snow birds and I won’t see them until April. To hear them thank me for helping them this year and making a difference in their lives just confirms the Mark Twain quote, and what I am doing. All of the money and success in the world means nothing. Knowing that you have made a difference in someone’s life….that is priceless.

How To Start 2016 Out Right

Here we are, another January and another chance to set goals for the new year.  As much as I and others talk about skipping resolutions because they just don’t work, I see so many posts on social media from friends and even former clients about their resolutions to eat healthy, exercise more, stress less, etc.  It seems we can’t get out of the mindset or the habit of making resolutions in January.

What if this year, we change that mindset or habit along with the idea that we have to achieve some level of perfection when it comes to eating right and exercising?  What if we start 2016 by throwing out the idea that we have to join a gym, or commit to some brutal exercise class or program that we don’t really like and we know we won’t be doing a year from now in 2017?

This year, let’s resolve to have balance in our life.  Let’s think of exercise in terms of movement.  Let’s think of “diet” in terms of fueling our body instead of depriving ourselves or giving in to emotional eating.  Let’s think of HEALTH.

Many of us have sedentary jobs, families at home, older parents to take care of, financial stresses, or a number of other commitments that will take priority over the $60 a month gym membership.  Instead of stressing ourselves over the fact that we are “donating” $60 a month because we can’t get to the gym every day, how about we take a walk every day?  It may be on our lunch break, it may be in the morning before everyone is awake and the day has started, it may be at the end of the day to relieve stress.  Is the weather bad where you live?  Find an indoor track, or create a walking path in your house.  Yes, walk in your house.  Put on headphones with your favorite music and walk for 10 minutes.  So what if the dog or the kids are making faces at you!  You’re moving and improving your health.

Do you spend at least 5 minutes before you go to bed checking your phone, email, or Facebook?  Shut off the electronics, and spend that 5 minutes stretching or doing yoga instead.  It will reduce stress, relax your mind and body, and help you to sleep better.  You’re moving and improving your health.

Are you an all day coffee or soda drinker?  Follow each cup of coffee or can of soda with a glass of water.  You may find that you start drinking just the water and cutting back on the soda.  You’re improving your health.

Will you be perfect at these changes?  Of course not, but you will start thinking differently.  Instead of not being aware of how much you haven’t moved, you will begin to think, “I haven’t gone for my walk today”.  That awareness is improvement.  Will something such as illness or work deadlines get you off track? You can count on it!  However, you will start your routine again as soon as you can and not feel defeated or give up. Will you have too much dessert or too much wine?  Probably, but it isn’t the end of the world or the end of your health goals.  Just get back on track.

A healthy lifestyle isn’t about perfection.  It is about making small changes, awareness, and letting go of ideals that never really worked. Start today by looking for opportunities to move.  Walk to your co-worker’s desk instead of emailing her.  March in place tonight while you are watching the news.  Drink one more glass of water than you did yesterday.  Start 2016 out right, but in a way that you don’t have to start all over again in 2017.

Movement Counts!

If you’ve struggled with exercise motivation and adherence, I highly recommend the book “No Sweat” by Michelle Segar, PhD. She hits the nail on the head about why so many of us hate exercise and struggle to stick with a program. It’s not you, it’s our rigid standards and ideas of what qualifies as “exercise” and the messages behind why we think we need to exercise which is usually based on shame and guilt.

One of her ideas I love is “Movement Snacks”. Just like you may have a snack if you’re hungry but it isn’t time for a full meal, a movement snack is a small bout of movement. Even if it’s 5 minutes, it counts! In our sedentary world, we have to think about moving more, find activity we enjoy, and stop thinking we HAVE to participate in a sweaty, exhausting workout at the gym for 30-60 minutes for it to count.

As a trainer for 20+ years, I see so many struggle and fail because they truly hate what they feel like they HAVE to do and WHY they have to do it, which is based on standards we as professionals are taught to implement. This book focuses on the psychology behind motivation and why we need to rethink our ideas, standards, and reasons WHY. I’ve been trying to teach this idea that all movement counts despite all of the media messages of what is “exercise”. I’ve even had to reevaluate my personal standards! If you’re a health or fitness professional, I also recommend “No Sweat” so we can get our clients motivated for the right reasons, stop shaming, and help to change their lifestyle permanently.

 

The Costs Of Health

Many of you have made your health a priority if you are reading this blog.  However, there are many more who are still contemplating making positive changes to your lifestyle, perhaps you just don’t know where to start.

One of the comments that I hear frequently is that it is too expensive to join a gym or work with a personal trainer.  I completely understand in this economy that we want to be cautious of how we spend our money. However, I want to make a few cost comparisons and break down these costs for you.

On average in my location, many gyms charge around $40-$50 per month for a membership.  Personal training can cost from $30 to $70 per session. That may sound expensive.

However, most of us do not think twice at buying a carryout pizza once a week.  The average cost per month for a carry out pizza is $48 if you order one pizza per week.

Perhaps a sit-down restaurant is more your style. Expect to spend a minimum of $40 per week for
two people to eat out.  Average cost per month, $160.

To get a little more serious, let’s look at the cost of medications for high cholesterol. One medication sells for $75 for a 30 day supply.  It is easy to spend at minimum $100 per month on prescriptions for many conditions which are preventable through exercise and a healthy diet.

Now, I am not saying these medications are bad or one should not take them if needed.
However, they are costly.  $40 per month for a gym membership or $30 to improve your health with a personal trainer does not sound like much when looking at these cost comparisons.

Better yet, exercise doesn’t have to cost anything. Simple exercises such as walking, biking, or doing
bodyweight exercises in your home are free and can benefit both your body and your brain.

You will pay for your health one way or another. You will either pay high insurance and medical costs, or pay for a healthier lifestyle. Make wise decisions and invest in your health.