You're not lazy! (and other myths about Parkinson's Disease and exercise)

Just STOP IT already.

You know what I'm talking about. I know you do because every single one of my clients tells me this too and I'm just tired of hearing it. 

You're not lazy.

When it comes to doing those oh-so-important exercises you don't follow through. Am I right? You might even think about getting up to go for a walk or stretching out on the floor but something doesn't connect and you end up just sitting on the couch for hours at a time.  You then decide: I'm just lazy, that's all there is to it. Sorry, that just ain't true!

Here are 5 actual reasons why you don't exercise by yourself: 

#1 You don't know what to do. 

When it comes down to it you just don't know what the heck you're supposed to be doing. You may have never exercised before your diagnosis OR you were used to doing something you don't think you can do anymore like golfing or riding your bike. You don't want to put one ounce of effort into something you don't KNOW is going to be worth your time.

The Answer: Exercise that changes your brain is anything that gets your heart rate up (to a point where it's hard to have a conversation), uses BIG movements in your arms, legs, and core, and challenges your mind. These principals can be applied to a variety of activities so pick one and start there.

#2 You need help - mentally.

In order for exercise to change your brain and body you need to be pushed to your limits physically and mentally and most people won't work that hard solo.  It's way too easy to tell yourself: that's okay, I think I'll just stop now instead of walking that extra block. 

The Answer: Grab a workout buddy who is at or slightly above your fitness level. By pairing up you'll be less likely to call it quits and you can cheer each other on. Try choosing a non-family member for this role (trust me on this one!).

#3 You need help - physically.

There are a lot of reasons for someone to need some supervision during exercise. You may be at risk for falling, have an injury that needs specific attention, or you're just scared of hurting yourself. You'll also likely need cues on your form and posture (although using a mirror works wonders here) especially if exercise is a new concept to you. 

The Answer: You need 1-on-1 attention to get you going so you can start strong and avoid injuries. Hire a physical therapist or personal trainer who is specialized in Parkinson's Disease for a few sessions to get you into a safe routine that's specific to your needs. Ask them if they can teach you AND your workout buddy the routine so the two of you can do the exercises together after you're done. 

#4 You REALLY don't feel like it.

Parkinson's hallmark sign is a lack of dopamine, which is one of the chemicals the brain uses to improve our mood and find pleasure in things. At diagnosis, most people have already lost 60% or more of their dopamine... no wonder things don't rev your engine like they used to! This lack of 'go-go juice' contributes significantly to apathy and can crush any motivation to workout.

The Answer: This can be a hard barrier to overcome  but once you get the ball rolling and stay consistent with exercise you'll start to see a boost in your mood and motivation. During exercise your brain releases all kinds of feel-good endorphins AND helps your brain absorb dopamine better. Remember that workout buddy? Make a plan with them workout consistently 3 times per week for a month and hold each other accountable. Put $20, $50, or $100 in a pot and agree that whoever cancels first loses their investment to their workout partner. Money is a strange motivator!

#5 Exercise Sucks

There, I said it. People's experience with exercise is that it's a chore that needs to be done. Very few people actually enjoy exercise, but almost everyone will agree that they feel better after they've done it. When you're living with Parkinson's your brain literally needs exercise in the same way it needs your medication, so it's just got to be done. Period. 

The Answer: Make it fun! It may seem impossible but there's something for everyone - you just have to look for it. One of the best ways I recommend making exercise fun is by joining a community fitness center or program in your area. I have to give a HUGE shout out to Power for Parkinson's ( in Austin, Texas as well as InMotion Gym ( in Cleveland, Ohio for having some of the greatest Parkinson's fitness program's I've seen, all for free. Seeking out something similar in your area can be a fun, social, and motivating way to squeeze in your fitness medication!

Ready to go further? Try the Invigorate Physical Therapy Plan of Attack Foundations Checklist to take it to the next level!