Parkinson’s Disease was not a diagnosis I was prepared to hear at the age of 27, just as I was beginning my career as a physician and expecting my first child. Although the first few years following my diagnosis were filled with fear and denial, I soon began to recognize that although the diagnosis itself was not within my control, how I faced the daily challenges and my resulting life experience, was mine to determine.
The most important lesson I’ve learned over the past 17 years since my diagnosis is that you must be an active participant in your disease management, actively seeking solutions to problems that arise and taking on a proactive approach to life in general. Being a passive bystander does not allow you to live successfully with this illness. It takes work, be it physical commitment or emotional growth, to overcome certain hurdles. In other words the importance of taking control of those variables that allows me to live well with Parkinson’s, has become my focus.
One of those key variables I know we must make effort to incorporate into our care routine is exercise. We know that in general exercise is good for pulmonary and cardiovascular health, helps to prevent bone loss and may slow cognitive decline. In PD, there are disease specific benefits. Numerous studies over the past few decades have shown the beneficial effects of physical therapy and general exercise in improving motor symptoms (such as gait, balance, slowness and stiffness) and many non motor symptoms. There is considerable evidence that exercise is an important part of effective disease management.
Simply put – if you exercise regularly, you feel better. I have found this to be true in my own experience. If I am disciplined in my self-care routine that includes a regular exercise program, I notice a significant improvement in my symptoms, decrease in the side effects from my medications and my sense of well being both physically and emotionally, is enhanced.
Easier said than done. Parkinson’s or no Parkinson’s, we all have our excuses when it comes to exercise. Trust me I understand particularly when apathy can be a real issue in this disease. Any intervention requires fundamental motivation and interest and finding ways to maintain that motivation is vital. Remember, we are not islands unto ourselves. We will do best when surrounded with a strong support network, made up of caring individuals all working to help us live better with this disease – our Parkinson’s support team.
The Parkinson’s Power Through Project is a movement that can be integral to that support system. PTP can help motivate those of us with PD to establish exercise as an integral part of our self-care routine through a culture of action, establishing tangible goals and harnessing the power of a supportive community with quality of life being the ultimate goal.
Because until the day we find a cure, the most important goal of our management is quality of life. We need to, as physicians and as patients,
concentrate on improving symptoms in order to optimize activities of daily living, maintain independence, increase productivity and improve overall life experience.
In your fight against Parkinson’s disease, it is important to take back some measure of control in what seems like an uncontrollable situation – to find solutions – physical, mental and emotional that will allow you to live well with this challenge. Exercise must become a fundamental part of your disease management and any intervention that will keep you motivated, informed and supports you in becoming physically active, like the PTP proposes, is surely worth incorporating.