If you’ve followed me here on the Huffington Post or on social media at all, then you know what an avid fan of exercise I am. It’s a New Year and a new YOU, right?! But, I do not want to waste your five minutes of time, trying to sell you on a gym for the New Year. I’m not wanting you to waste a bunch of money on a Multi-Level Marketing product that promises a cure, if you just spend two grand and sign up 200 people in your downline. I have a bigger purpose for this post, and not only is it completely free, with NO STRINGS ATTACHED, but here’s the best part; I GET NOTHING FOR IT! No money will be exchanged; simply just knowing I may have helped you in your journey truly is what I’ll have earned.
Now, if you’re still here, actually trusting I have no ulterior motive, I wish to explain why exercise is such a huge part of my life. Seven years ago, I noticed my first tremor. I will never forget holding the coffee pot with my left hand. As the water rose, my left arm began to shake uncontrollably. Four years later I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease on New Year’s Eve 2014.
This is my laundry list of symptoms in 2014. My left arm flopped like a fish out of water. I drug my left foot. No matter how much water I drank, my left hand and foot would cramp in the arch. My left hand also remained cupped at all times. My balance was so non-existent my daughter blowing a dandelion in my direction would cause me to fall. I had no spatial recognition. I would run into every doorframe I attempted to walk through. I had zero control over my left hand, making fine motor skills a thing of the past. In order to move my left arm, I had to pick it up with my right hand. The ability to type or cut up meat ceased. My left thumb automatically stroked my index finger. My knuckles and wrists would lock and click as I attempted to move them. I was exhausted, but the fatigue was constant. No amount of sleep seemed to relieve me. My neck and trapezius were cramped at all times and hard as rocks, so much so, that my left shoulder was two inches higher than my right, and I now have scoliosis as a result. Massages did nothing. When I was pregnant with my daughter, the bigger I got, the slower I got, which is normal. However, after I gave birth, I never sped back up. Apparently, my sense of smell deteriorated, however, I argue this point. My face showed no emotion. I looked, and for all intents and purposes I was, dead inside. I began to slur. This was especially disturbing, because my background is in TV hosting and reporting and there is an s in my first name. I couldn’t even say my name correctly. I spoke in a whisper, yet I felt I I shouted. My mind would blank on simple words. I began choking on everything including water. I was chronically depressed, even though I didn’t really know why. But, probably the worst symptom of all was anxiety. I never could reason why I was so anxious, yet the feeling would rob me of my breath and the unknown would sit on my chest like a sick game.
Yes, medicine helped to alleviate some of these symptoms. Within 48 hours on Levodopa, I was able to move my left hand independently of my right. My dystonia or cramping in my neck and trap were alleviated for the most part. My slur and choking disappeared. I was then able to find motivation when my doctor prescribed me to move. He said exercise was the ONLY thing proven to slow PD’s progression.
I began slow, but I found the results to be rather fast. By exercising my balance, I gained more balance than most healthy individuals. I can now walk a three-inch seesaw and walk on the handles of a number of kettle bells in a row. My tremor increases while I work out, however in the long term, it is reduced. Exercise has increased my stamina to the point that I can keep the schedule that I have. My days include starting at 4 a.m., a 4 1/2 hour commute, 2 jobs, all while being a single mom, blogging, starting a non-profit, running a social media site, building a brand, art, exercising five days a week, and passing out around 10 p.m.. (No, I no longer care to hear you don’t have time.) I can pick up my 55-pound child with one arm, and even do pushups with her on my back. And the worst part of Parkinson’s for me, anxiety and depression, are completely gone with exercise!
So, why am I so sure that exercise is to thank? It all came flooding back! In July, I injured my shoulder and was unable to continue training at my ninja gym, Iron Sports. I rested, then switched medications abruptly in August, which caused severe depression and anxiety. Once that faded, I found it harder to get back into the routine of going to the gym. I began my new job, which added my ridiculous commute, and pressure I put on myself to keep my daughter stable amidst our crazy life. I found my tremor was more frequent. I swallowed more and more pills to combat the tremors. When I didn’t have a tremor, the increase in pills, increased my dyskinesia, which is another involuntary movement of my arm. Then, the scariest of all side effects; some doses didn’t work!
So, how can I prove to you exercise is the biggest controller in my battle against Parkinson? I know because, as soon as I began exercising on a routine basis again, my medication began working again. My anxiety is gone, my balance is back and my dyskinesia is decreased. I have had a progressive disease with visible signs for seven years, yet I now take less medication than I was originally prescribed. And I am stronger and more agile than when I was in my 20’s.
I’ve heard of an 80 year old man who still runs marathons, diagnosed with Parkinson’s 40 years ago. I heard from a woman who does Crossfit and is “exactly the same as when” she was diagnosed 25 years ago.
I believe exercise not only has the power to slow the progression of so many diseases, including PD, but to stop and possibly even reverse it. Whether you have PD, MS, CP or IDK (I Don’t Know), or you want to prevent anyone of a number of illnesses, exercise should be your first line of defense! Exercise is the cheapest therapist you’ll ever pay for, the healthiest drug you’ll ever take, all with no side effects.
In the words of Nike, “Just do it!”