Practice Makes Perfect

 

It doesn’t get easier, you just get better

seen on a t-shirt at Box n Burn gym

You want to try something new, but it just seems too difficult.  You go to your first yoga class and you are lost.  Everyone else seems to know what they are doing, but you are clueless.  You keep going, hoping that you will figure it out.   And then, one day, you are moving through the poses like everyone else.  Your body seems to know what to do.  You wake up one morning to discover that you can get out of bed much easier.  In addition, your gait has improved, your balance is better, and some of your other symptoms have improved.  How did that happen?

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success quotes neurologist Daniel Levitin, who said “that 10,000 hours of practice is required to master a level of mastery with being a world-class expert – in anything”.  He goes on to say: “It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”  On average, it takes 10 years to reach 10,000 hours.  Some examples he gives are The Beatles, concert musicians and hockey players.  Their commitment to practice many more hours than others gives them the skills they need to be the best of their profession.

So how does that apply to Parkinson’s Disease?  We certainly don’t have the luxury of doing something for 10,000 hours.  But if we keep working at a task,  we should improve.  Right?  That is the theory behind LSVT, Rock Steady Boxing, Dancing for PD, Yoga and all of the other PD exercise programs out there.  We are told to learn new things.  It is good for the brain.  It can be difficult to learn a new skill, especially if you have a tremor and stiffness.  You start out slowly.  But it should start getting easier as your muscles and your brain adapt.  And gradually you will work harder and better, without even trying.   If you stick with it, you should start noticing positive changes. You have practiced your voice exercises diligently and at some point, you discover that no one is complaining that they can’t hear you.  You have worked hard enough and long enough to be able to project your voice without even trying.  It now comes naturally to you.

Unfortunately, many Parkie’s are in a slow downward spiral as their symptoms continue to worsen.  They try everything they can to slow down the progression, but don’t put in enough time to “master” a skill.  I wonder what would happen to Parkie’s if they danced or boxed often enough to reach 1000 hours a year.  Would they begin to master the moves?  And how would that translate into improvement of their PD?

These are questions for the researchers out there.  I don’t know the answers.  But I do know that when I am engaged in an activity that I have been practicing often, my PD symptoms seem to improve.  I may not have mastered the activity, but it is getting easier over time.   And that definitely makes my life better.

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If you are not sure what type of exercise to do, here is a list of 12 types of exercise suitable for Parkinson’s Disease patients

A note to my readers, we are leaving for a vacation in Ireland, so there will be no post next week.

PD Boxing Packs a Punch

Find what moves you and fight for it.  Michelle Lao

Boxing coach Michelle Lao has written a guest column for Twitchy Woman about the benefits of boxing for PwP’s.  She has also created a short film about Boxing for PD titled On The Ropes:  Battling Parkinson’s Disease.  Several of the boxers that I work out with are featured in the film.  Click on the link below to watch.

It is incredibly ironic that a sport like boxing, often associated with being a contributor to Parkinson’s Disease, can also stop the advancement of it. There was always a strong correlation within the boxing community, that the constant blows to the head caused Parkinson’s. If the correlations are true, then the poison can also be the antidote. Boxing training places a heavy demand on the body which aides in re-establishing lost connections and building new ones within the neuronal circuitry. By learning a new sport, you are acquiring a new skill set that helps to increase neuroplasticity. With my PD fighters, I have seen countless mind body connections being made in boxing. These connections formed have slowed down the progression of Parkinson’s Disease. Here are the physical benefits that I have seen in my fighters:

  • Restoring loss of function in fine motor skills and gross motor movements.
  • Increase improvements in balance, coordination, gait, range of movement (flexibility), and proprioception (awareness of the body in terms of space)
  • Decrease in the slowness of initiating movement, in muscle tone (rigidity), and in frequency of involuntary movements (tremors)
  • Better sleep

Boxing can help improve cognition. Although boxing is a full body workout, it is also a cerebral sport. In my classes, boxing is used to sharpen the mind. My PD boxers have to be able to quickly adapt, predict, track and execute precision in movement and timing. When training, my boxers are constantly recalling combinations and patterns whether it’s by verbal or physical feedback. By engaging in these boxing drills, my boxers have shown significant cognitive improvements in the following areas:

  • Increase in executive function, memory and thinking
  • Improvement in verbal communication
  • Decrease in cognitive delays
  • Less confusion, more focus

I approach fitness more holistically. I believe that wellness creates a well-being. I find that my boxers have been able to find a community of people that they can relate to without having to explain the hurdles of their disease. Everyone is on the same playing field. PD boxing classes have helped my fighters manage their disease at an emotional level and the benefits are countless. Here are a few boxing benefits for emotional well-being:

    • Empowerment. You own the disease; it doesn’t own you.
    • Confidence. You know what your body can do for you and you can seize the day with it.
    • Cathartic. You can release all your stresses by punching it out.
    • Camaraderie. You gained a supportive network of friends who motivate and encourage you.
    • Independence. You no longer need to rely on others for help as much.
    • Improved quality of life. You are less depressed and can live a fuller life.

As much as boxing can be rewarding on a physical, cognitive, and emotional level, it also needs to be fun and engaging. If you do not find enjoyment in the movement program you participate in, then you will not benefit from it. Find what moves you and fight for it.

On the Ropes: Battling Parkinson’s Disease from Drastic on Vimeo.

According to the New York Times….

Exercise Can Be a Boon to People With Parkinson’s Disease

No kidding…….I have written many times about the benefits of exercise for people with Parkinson’s Disease, as have my fellow Parkinson’s bloggers.  An article in yesterday’s New York Times reiterates much of what I have said before.  The author says: “For Parkinson’s patients in particular, regular exercise tailored to their needs can result in better posture; less stiffness; improved flexibility of muscles and joints; faster and safer walking ability; less difficulty performing the tasks of daily living; and an overall higher quality of life.”  If you are like me and exercise regularly to help improve your symptoms, you already knew that.

I can attest to the benefits of exercise for me, especially since I am returning today from an 18 day cruise.  While I tried to exercise daily, it is hard to maintain a routine while traveling and by the end of the trip I could really feel the difference; my body was just not in sync.  So my body and I are both looking forward to getting back to yoga, boxing and the other activities that keep us moving.

I have found that regular yoga helps with flexibility and balance and boxing builds strength, endurance and agility.  The combination of the two has wIMG_0386orked well for me (and many others).  They make a huge difference in performance in other areas like tennis — better footwork, faster response times and even in seeing the ball better. Most importantly, I just feel better overall.

BUT do not start an exercise program without consulting your doctor first, especially if you have not been exercising.  Your doctor may want you to begin an exercise program by working with a Physical Therapist to establish a baseline for you and to help you learn exercises that will be beneficial for your specific needs.  And don’t forget getting motivated,  Working with a personal trainer provides one kind of motivation through personal attention; group classes provide a different kind of positive social reinforcement.  Find the mix that works best for you.

And don’t forget to exercise your brain; doing puzzles, playing cards or practicing with a musical instrument.  I may have found a new mental exercise in getting reintroduced to playing Bridge during our cruise. During days at sea we joined the daily beginners classes in the morning, and often played with the group in the afternoon as well.  Bridge, more than any other card game I have played, requires total concentration and attention to the every aspect of the game.  And the game’s conventions have changed dramatically since we learned to play over 40 years ago.   I hope that relearning the game almost from scratch will provide new and fun mental exercise (boxing for the brain??) and improve my mental concentration the way phsyical exercise has helped my body.

Hopefully we will find a way to continue to play Bridge now that we’re home and that it will find its own regular place in my daily or weekly routine (without becoming another Parkinson’s obsession).  Introducing and maintaining changes in those routines while keeping everything in balance is itself a challenge that we should look forward to meeting.hand35-b

100 and counting

Wow, it has been an interesting journey!  I started writing this blog in March, 2015, as a way to share my experience with Parkinson’s Disease with others.  I never imagined that I would still be writing almost 2 years later, with this my 100th post!  15 people read that first post when it was published.  Now my subscribed readers number several hundred, with many more just checking in, coming from 76 different countries.   I want to thank all of you for your support over the last 2 years.

Looking back on the past year, there have been many exciting findings in Parkinson’s research.  The most important is the change in thinking about how Parkinson’s gets started.  Research now points to changes in the microbes in the gut as the trigger for setting off Parkinson’s symptoms.*  What this means for us:  a possibility for earlier detection with a screening test, and new treatment options that begin before damage to the brain occurs.  To learn more about it, register for Michael J Fox Foundation’s next webinar  on January 19, titled  Gut (Bacteria) Check on Parkinson’s: Role of the Microbiome.   Maybe this will be the year………

There has also been a world-wide effort to change the image of Parkinson’s from the stooped over, shuffling person to someone who is actively enjoying life with PD. Photographer Anders Leines‘ photo exhibit at the World Parkinson’s Congress was highly successful.  There is also a Facebook page, Many Faces of Parkinson’s that is working to change that image.  The World Parkinson Coalition has just published a book Faces of Parkinson’s: Global Reflections of PD which can be ordered through their website.

Exercise has also been a positive force this year for PwP.  Many studies have shown that exercise can be more beneficial in relieving Parkinson’s symptoms that anything else. See Exercise May Be Real Medicine for Parkinson’s Disease.  Yoga, boxing and tennis keep me going.  If you are not exercising, 2017 is the year to get moving.  There are so many options, either in group exercise classes, online videos or just walking.  Just check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

I was fortunate to attend the World Parkinson Congress in Portland in September.  This amazing conference brought together over 4300 people from around the world, People with Parkinson’s and their caregivers, doctors, scientists, and many others in related fields for 4 fabulous days. I am so glad that I met many of you there.  I hope that we can all meet in Kyoto in 2019 at the next WPC!

My Parkinson’s resolutions for 2017:

  1. Keep on moving:  exercise every day.
  2. Keep a positive attitude.  Look in a mirror and smile – it will brighten your day.
  3. Participate in PD research.  PwP’s are an important part of finding the cure,
  4. Get more sleep.
  5. Hug my grandchildren as much as possible for they are the best medicine! (Thank you Linda B for saying that).

Have a wonderful and healthy 2017!

Some photos from 2016

 

 

 

Books, Laughter and Exercise

I love to read a good book.  I have had the opportunity to read two very different books in the last few weeks by authors who have Parkinsons’s.  At the World Parkinson Congress, I was fortunate to hear author Alice Lazzarini talk about her book Both Sides Now: A Journey from Researcher to Patient.  Her story is compelling and I could not put the book down.  Shake Rattle and Roll With It:  Living and Laughing with Parkinson’s by Vikki Claflin, is a very different take on PD by a humorist blogger.

At the WPC, Lazzarini told us that it all started with her shadow.  Walking down the street one morning, she saw that her arm was not swinging in her shadow.  A Parkinson’s researcher for years, she knew that a reduced arm swing was an early sign of Parkinson’s.  The next morning the she noticed once again that her arm was not swinging in her shadow.  She was reminded about how medical students typically diagnose themselves with each disease they study.  She said “I must be too immersed in Parkinsons”

How could this be?  She went to work and confided in a co-worker who had been diagnosed two months earlier.  They cried together at the irony that both PD researchers were diagnosed with Parkinson’s as they were making groundbreaking discoveries for that same disease.

In Both Sides Now: A Journey From Researcher to Patient Alice Lazzarini tells the story or her illustrious career and about her diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease.     She recounts difficulties faced by women in the workplace, especially in academia, at that time.  Many years later, encouraged by the visionary doctor she worked with, Roger Duvoisin, she finally pursued her PhD.  In 1996, her groundbreaking study with the Contursi family from Italy led to the discovery of the alpha-synuclein mutation, PARK1, and revolutionized the field of Parkinson’s research.  Yet, when confronted with the early symptoms that she knew pointed to PD, she did not seek medical treatment.  It took almost a year for her to finally see a colleague for an evaluation and the confirmation of her worst fears.

Like most of us, she tried to hide the tremor that appeared early on. When she hosted an advisory board meeting in London for Parkinson’s specialists several months later,she began to see PD from the other side – the patient’s side.  Statements made by other doctors that were not offensive before, now bothered her immensely.  But the biggest issue that confronted her was how could she remain a professional and be a patient at the same time?

In spite of her amazing career, she faced the same issues that we all do when we hear those four terrible words “You have Parkinson’s Disease”.  We have gone through denial, hidden our symptoms, and pretended that all was ok, when inside we were terrified.  We did not want people at work to know because it could jeopardize our careers.  Dr. Lazzarini was no different, and that is why her story is so easy to relate to.

Once she finally came to accept her disease, and her fate, Dr. Lazzarini retired from research and wrote her story for herself.  Fortunately she decided to share it with others who are living with Parkinson’s, so that we can better understand this disease.  Her story is an inspiration, and her discoveries have revolutionized the approach to Parkinson’s research.  Because of this amazing woman, we all have hope for a future without Parkinson’s.

In contrast, Shake, Rattle & Roll With It: Living and Laughing with Parkinson’s by Vikki Claflin, who has been writing about her experiences with Parkinson’s in her blog, Laugh Lines, gives us a very different take on PD.  There is a saying that if you write a blog about Parkinson’s, you will eventually write a book about it.  I have read some books by bloggers that are just awful.  But this one I recommend highly.  At times, I think she had channeled me and was writing about my experiences.  She sees the same elephant in the room that I have seen and written about.  I found myself nodding in agreement with her observations and laughing hysterically at some of her antics.  There is no embarrassing PD story that is off limits.   Any woman can relate to her description of shimmying into Spanx whether she has PD or not.  (If you don’t know what Spanx are, imagine trying to stuff a comforter back into that plastic bag it came in.  You just can’t do it!)  Her 20 ways Parkinson’s tremors come in handy is a classic.  And of course, when all else fails, there is always a glass (or bottle) of red wine with Milk Duds to get through the worst days.  But underneath it all is a serious look at living with a chronic disease and how one woman copes with it by looking at the world through humor.  Her final advice to us is Even without a cure in your lifetime, you can fight a good fight.  If you can laugh at the frustrations, epic fails and embarrassing moments, you will live a life made up of joyful moments and you have won the fight.

Finally, for those of you who have read Alex Kertin’s Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello life!: The Gyro-Kinetic Method for Eliminating Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Good Health, he just announced today that there is now a 30 minute exercise video that you can download. Go to  My Exercise for Parkinson’s  with Michael Wiese, the co-author of the book.