Fighting Back Through Exercise
Diagnosed at 40
I was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease in 1997, when I was 40 years old. Like most people diagnosed with a chronic progressive neuro-degenerative disease, I became very depressed. I had three young kids and was afraid that I might be severely disabled before they grew up. Some days I felt sorry for myself, gave into despair, and isolated myself from my family. Other days I tried to fight back by exercising. I bought my first mountain bike a week after diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, and rode often on forest trails and gravel roads. My house in Oregon was only 1/4 mile from the trail head.
Three years later, my Parkinson's disease had progressed enough that I had to retire from my work as an anesthesiologist. That seemed to prove that I was on my way to becoming disabled, so i got really depressed. Fortunately, my friends and kids kept dragging me out of my dungeon to hike, bike, or play.
I started taking Ropinerole in 1997, started Levodopa in 2005 (should have started Levodopa a few years earlier). In 2007, 10 years after diagnosis, I started exercising regularly with another person with young-onset PD. That was a turning point for both of us because we exercised much more regularly than we previously had when we were exercising alone.
By 2008-2009, we noticed that we were improving physical functions such as speed of movement, coordination, and balance. We started regaining optimism and decided to push harder to break through our limits.Since then we have continued to maintain and/or improve our abilities to do challenging exercises, but we need to take meds more often because our Parkinson's disease has continued to progress. Since 2010, I have been leading exercise classes for people with Parkinson's disease (wwww.exerciseforparkinsons.com).
Alpine skiing has been my favorite sport since I was 12 years old. When I found out that I had Parkinson's disease, I assumed I would be able to keep skiing for only a few more years. Last year I participated in my first masters slalom and giant slalom ski races. I was the slowest male racer under 84 years old, but I was so excited that I am trying to race again this year.