My philosophy on medication––and there is some physiology behind this––is that you should try to be on the lowest effective dose. I actually take no Parkinson’s medication. How do you do this? For starters, I have come to believe passionately in the importance of stress management. Exercise is also critical––aerobic exercise can decrease the amount of medicine you have to take. In the winter, I am active six to seven days per week. My schedule varies from cycling on a stationary bike or running on a treadmill in my basement, to using machines at the gym. I wear a heart rate monitor and I do a half-hour to one hour per day. Twice a week I try to do high-intensity weightlifting. I also do plenty of stretching and take Tai Chi classes. My nutritional plan is centered on anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory foods. You have to attack Parkinson’s from many directions.
I believe that, from the day of diagnosis, we should be proactive about our health. There are 8,760 hours in a year and appointments with the neurologist only account for about 4 hours. Therefore, for the remaining 8,756 hours we have to take responsibility for our health.
My health improved so much that in the summer of 2006, my oldest son Scott and I were in Iowa cycling 450 miles across the state to raise money for Parkinson’s (http://www.pedalingforparkinsons.org). One day, we had finished our daily 70-mile ride, and Scott and I were completely exhausted as we pressed on to get to the host family’s house. We thought it was very close––just over one hill––and that we would be able to spot the house by the big white support trailer that would be parked out front. We were mistaken––we cycled over hill after hill, all the while gradually cycling uphill. Physically, we were drained and down to our last bits of energy. Psychologically, we were discouraged because we would bike over a hill and think that we saw the trailer, but then our hopes would be dashed when it turned out that it was simply a road sign or something else. We went over thirteen hills and each time we were disappointed. Finally, we spotted the house and, as we arrived, we raised our arms in victory as if we had won the Tour de France. We charged down the hill to the driveway and collapsed on the ground, exhausted but jubilant that we had finally arrived.
Living with Parkinson’s is very similar to that cycling experience. It is often a difficult uphill ride. We experience many disappointments but we keep going. We receive reports from the media that a cure is near, yet it seems that we are constantly being disappointed. Ultimately, we keep going––and I am sure that eventually our persistence will be rewarded and that we will raise our arms in victory!
I hope that the knowledge that I have accumulated will help others by ‘flattening out the hills’ along the way and making the ‘ride’ easier.
Dr. David Heydrick has a DVD, The Parkinson's Pyramid, which expands on his strategy for living with Parkinson's disease.