Parkinson’s: Exercise, Happiness and Regrets or making the best of it

I want to start this little chat off by mentioning some of the little things that come to us via Parkinson’s. Stiffness, back ache, poor posture, off-periods with loss of balance, early morning awakening after falling asleep trying to watch something on the TV or the computer or the Ipad and …. but hey, you get the picture especially if you are one of the estimated 145,000 -plus people in the UK that have been diagnosed (and who knows how many more that live with it but have not been diagnosed?).

If we have Parkinson’s  we must learn how to live a new life, one that accepts limitations but at the same time does not roll over and give in without trying to do as much as we can. Perhaps the best people to ask about life experience are those with plenty of it. Recently a study was performed in the USA asking people (average age 95) about happiness and regrets in their lives. Generally, those that had a life that relied on career skills that could be carried on through middle and into old age and even during poorer health, were emotionally more stable and more contented being old than those whose earlier lives earned them accolades for their physical attributes (such as models, athletes, or any other professions that required looks and/or great physical prowess to succeed in).

2018-04-14 09.55.11
Coffee and biscuits before the researchers meeting at the MRC Toxicology Unit. This picture is a good example of friendship put to good use: Very important to us, as we grow older, because loneliness is the most painful thing many live with in their old age.

An old friend of mine, years ago, used to say to youngsters at the gym that ribbed him about his age ‘It’s better to be a has-been than a never-was!’ This study showed that is not true for the majority of those that excelled as young people but have to face the reality that when we get old no matter how good we are, we cannot hope to be close to being the person that we used to be. Indeed, many highly successful bodybuilders and weightlifters from long ago (before steroids and other drugs appeared – today’s bodybuilders won’t make it to 95 even if they want to!)  committed suicide as age tightened it’s grip and they could not live with being a ‘has-been.’ Other studies show that this trend towards wishing to stay young has increased immensely over the last decade or so as more and more gyms open and fill up with middle- and old-aged members, desperately working hard trying to halt age’s insidious march inside their bodies.

Fortunately this exercise trend when handled correctly really can improve life both for ‘normal’ and Parkinson’s people. Don’t expect to get something for nothing though as most studies on Parkinson’s and exercise see positive results only when the effort involved is substantial (for example: PD Warrior, the exercise system from Australia, says that any less than 80% of your best effort when exercising is not effective).

Due to space considerations I cannot list my own personal take on exercise but below is the order of importance I think would be best for most people.

1 Confidence and belief in oneself: be strong-minded with PD – fight it!
2 Balance/kinaesthetic control: You cannot exert force needed to do anything if your balance is shot (Newton’s third law of motion applies here).
3 Strength: When old people cannot stand up from their chairs or open a jam jar or pick up and carry a bag of groceries it is because of weakness.
4 Flexibility: Ballet dancers  can do full splits; not necessary for us but mobility of joints allows strength application over a longer range of motion helping balance.
5 Circulo-respiratory (or cardio-vascular)exercise. Unless you run Marathons you don’t need that degree of aerobic fitness to be healthy: Look at the statistics – people die at nearly every big Marathon involving the public because they do not understand a 26-mile run is a massive drain on bodily systems and is even potentially hazardous to elite runners.

Remember body, mind and soul are all one, that’s why I put a mental attribute first; a robust attitude will carry you a long way in life. As Winston Churchill put it ‘ Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.’

Okay, to wrap it up I remember a philosopher talking about age and regret when he was in his 90s and he said 8 out of 10 things he had worried about never happened and his worst regrets were things that he had not done but wished that he had. So lets not waste our opportunities but grab them when we can and LIVE!


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