People are now beginning to understand the importance of exercise in restoring health, particularly as it relates to neurological conditions, like parkinson’s. Indeed, exercise benefits us in many ways. Not only does it strengthen muscles and vitalize cardiovascular health, it stimulates and strengthens all of the internal body systems, including the immune system.
Norman Doidge, author of The Brain’s Way of Healing, claims that exercise stimulates the glial cells which make up 85% of brain tissue. He says glial cells produce glial-derived neurotrophic factor [GDNF], which functions like a growth promoting fertilizer in the brain. Among other things, it helps neurons to wire and rewire the brain, promotes the release of endorphins, including, dopamine, and helps the nervous system recover from injury. In other words, it is absolutely essential for brain health.
In The Brain’s Way of Healing, Doidge profiles South African, John Pepper, who was diagnosed with parkinson’s in 1968. Now in his eighties, Pepper is still going strong and has no visible PD symptoms, which he credits to a vigorous exercise program. The basis of his exercise routine is conscious walking. He thinks about every step he takes [similar to counting while walking which I wrote about recently] and when he does so, he walks normally. He applies the same process to everything he does, and by doing so, believes he is retraining his brain.
CBS Sunday Morning recently profiled a boxing program that was created specifically for people experiencing the symptoms of parkinson’s. It includes exercises to offset stiffness, loss of balance, loss of dexterity and trembling. Participants in the program have seen improvements in their condition.
Bianca Molle and Howard Shifke credit dedicated Qigong practices, a gentle form of exercise, for their recoveries.
I exercise almost every day and I’m thankful I have the opportunity to teach martial arts. I think it has a lot to do with why I’m doing relatively well [the last time I saw my neurologist, he said I’m doing very well considering how long I have been experiencing symptoms]. To keep myself on track, I created an excel spreadsheet, listing all of the exercises I do in the left hand column and 1 to 31 along the top [representing the days of the month]. The exercises include:
- Walking [an hour a day]
- Pushups [15-20, 1-3 times a day]
- Stomach crunches [40-50, 1-3 times a day]
- Wall sits [60 seconds, 1-3 times a day]
- Speed exercises [mostly karate blocks, strikes and kicks]
- Knee raises [helps counteract freezing]
- Grounding [sitting with my bare feet on the ground]
- Silent solitude
A word on walking. When I walk, I do my best to focus on it completely. I count steps and concentrate on lengthening my stride and placing my foot down heel to toe. And I keep my back straight, head up and shoulders square. I also periodically do boxing punches. As I step forward with my right foot I will throw a punch with my right hand. Then take a few steps and throw a punch with my left hand. Similarly, I will lunge forward with my left foot and throw a jab-cross combination, then do the same thing with the right side. I walk normally when I do these things and the punching helps counter slowness of movement.
Each day, as I complete each exercise I put a checkmark on the spreadsheet. I figure the more checkmarks I enter the sooner I will recover my health.
Gentle exercise seems to work best for me. I don’t overdo it and I don’t exhaust myself. I find that aggressive exercise worsens my symptoms.
Have an awesomely fit day!