Let’s Get Moving!

Back Commentary Sep 20, 2018 By Winnie Comstock-Carlson

Growing up, we take our bodies for granted. Many of us expect that we’ll always be able to move with ease, or challenge our bodies with minimal punishment. But as age sets in or circumstances change, our bodies are quick to remind us — things won’t always work like they used to.

Exercise can help us maximize life’s potential. My days wouldn’t be complete without a daily weight lifting regime called Happy Body and weekly racquetball games. My parents raised me to be active mentally and physically. My dad was an avid outdoorsman who traversed Northern California through his surveying company, and climbed just about every mountain, knoll and gorge in the northern state. I believe that exercise at every age improves your life.

Regular high-intensity exercise can even combat symptoms of aging, as it does for patients with Parkinson’s disease, including those highlighted in this month’s issue (“Move Your Body” by Russell Nichols, page 56). The participants in the Rock Steady boxing program have PD and are fighting — quite literally — for the quality of their lives. The classes work parts of their bodies that are slowly being debilitated by Parkinson’s.  

PD affects nearly one million people in the U.S. with 60,000 new cases reported each year. It is the second most common degenerative disease after Alzheimer’s. In its early stages, Parkinson’s causes tremors as nerves begin to degenerate. Ultimately, loss of motor skills can cause stiffness in joints and limbs. The disease can affect the brain, as well.

Related: New approaches to physical therapy take a swing at Parkinson’s disease

I lost my dad to the disease, after he suffered for 11 years. It was heart-wrenching to watch PD ravage his body, and we couldn’t help but wonder what had caused it. Family lore attributes my father’s disease to his use of turpentine to treat mange he contracted from our hunting dogs. I’m sure we aren’t the only family unable to help themselves from grasping for answers.

Fortunately, we know significantly more about Parkinson’s than we did when my dad was suffering, but there is still much that remains unknown. California is taking steps to learn more about how the disease progresses and which groups of people are most susceptible to it. Since last July, new cases of Parkinson’s have been recorded in a statewide registry. From those cases, some patients will be chosen for long-term studies beginning in March 2019.

The Rock Steady Boxing program was designed specifically to combat symptoms, and improve mental alertness and coordination. Footwork also helps improve balance. The University of Cincinnati researched the benefits of exercise for Parkinson’s, and found patients who start exercising earlier slow the decline caused by the disease and those who stay with an exercise program do better over the long term.  

The symptoms of Parkinson’s develop slowly over years, giving patients the opportunity to live a fulfilling life while managing the disease. To convey that message, actor Alan Alda recently announced that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s — three years ago. He said he made his diagnosis public to combat the stigma associated with the disease that patients can’t lead full lives. In those three years, he started a podcast, acted, has given speeches and created a university program to communicate the sciences.

There is a lesson here for all of us: Living an active lifestyle is always a good strategy, even if what constitutes an active lifestyle changes over time or with circumstance. Taking charge of our physical health is critical. Just take a look at the executives profiled in this month’s cover story (“The Way We Work” by Jeff Wilser): Whether it’s Laurie Harting of Dignity Health stretching at her standing desk or Taro Arai of Mikuni Restaurant Group and his morning rounds of golf, these executives understand the value of physical health — even in the midst of the daily grind.

From young professionals to leaders in the C-suite, I hear all the time how difficult it is to make time for exercise, and I understand the struggle. But start with a small commitment — a 20-minute power walk before breakfast, let’s say — and go from there. Your body will thank you, and you might be surprised at how natural it becomes to set aside time to care for yourself.

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