Post written by Dr. Karen Blindauer
This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about exercise, and it won’t be the last. The human body is meant to exercise — it keeps our muscles, including our heart, strong and it releases the chemicals our brains need to be happy and healthy.
As a career athlete, Davis Phinney has experienced the benefits of exercise for his entire life. As an elite and decorated American cyclist, including winner of an Olympic medal and a number of legs of the Tour de France, Mr. Phinney has experienced the joy of victory many times. Today, as a person with Parkinson’s, Davis Phinney spends his time encouraging other people with Parkinson’s to exercise and to find their own victories every day. “It’s not the size of the victory, but the recognition of it that counts. The motivation behind it. The inspiration it can provide to others. In the end, it’s about what we can do today to improve lives. And that is a victory in itself, “ he tells us.
There have been numerous studies showing that people with Parkinson’s disease who exercise have a better quality of life as well as better walking, balance, strength and flexibility than those who do not exercise. The Davis Phinney Foundation recently conducted an online survey with 100 respondents. It’s a “snapshot” of the folks who were checking his Web site and willing to do that survey; therefore it can’t be generalized to the entire PD population. The survey does, however, illustrate the gap between the importance that people with PD place on exercise and the information provided by their neurologists. The findings show that while 81 percent of people with PD said they believed that exercise can slow disease progression, only 40 percent reported discussing exercise with their physician within six months of diagnosis. Almost 20 percent of people said they never discussed exercise with their physician. Other studies have even less impressive results. One indicates that only 5.6 per cent of survey respondents received information about exercise from their physicians.
Let me be among the group of physicians who informs, promotes, encourages and even prescribes exercise as a treatment modality for Parkinson’s. Where appropriate, step one can be a prescription for a therapy evaluation that can lead to a course of physical, occupational and speech therapy. Those therapy sessions will only be of long term benefit if you have an exercise program in place for health maintenance following therapy. For those folks who really don’t require formal therapy, we need to identify and commit to an exercise program. Some people benefit from and enjoy group classes. Others who are motivated and disciplined may come up with a very good regimen that they stick to on their own.
Some people may be discouraged that they can’t do a half hour or hour of exercise at a time or can’t walk a mile from the get go. Getting in shape takes time. Doing a little bit of exercise and building endurance gradually is much better than not exercising at all. Exercise does not have to cost money either. You can walk in your neighborhood or walk at the mall when the weather is bad. You can watch and participate in exercise programs on TV like Sit and Be Fit. You don’t need to buy expensive equipment. You can use a soup can as a light dumbbell, or use a purse for a heavier weight to lift. (Be careful not to overdo it with this one. I’ve seen some big and heavy purses in my clinic.)
Many of my patients ask me which exercise is best for PD. The most honest answer is that we don’t really know for sure. My personal opinion is that someone should pick an exercise or physical activity that they enjoy so it is easier to stick to.
We are fortunate in the Greater Milwaukee Area to have numerous exercise classes specifically geared to people with Parkinson’s. Among the best is the exercise class developed by physical therapist, Teresa Steffen, PhD and replicated in 7 locations. There is also an excellent yoga class for Parkinson’s at the Milwaukee Yoga Center and the Moving and Grooving Parkinson’s Dance/Exercise classes in four locations. Contact Vicki Conte our Program Coordinator at 414-805-8326 for more details.
If you are looking for some great information and inspiration on Parkinson’s and exercise, please sign up to attend the Oct. 10 Victory Summit sponsored by the Davis Phinney Foundation in collaboration with Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin. The event, held from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, is free of charge including lunch with national speakers including Mr. Phinney. If you are looking for an opportunity to spend time exercising outdoors with me, my colleagues, family and friends and Davis Phinney, please register for Moving Forward: Ride/Walk for Parkinson’s on Oct. 11. Information on both events can be found at www.davisphinneyfoundation.org
. We wouldn’t normally do events two days in a row but we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to experience some “daily victories” with a great Parkinson’s role model.