Brian Reedy: Forced intensive exercise for people with Parkinson’s
April 23, 2018
Forced intensive exercise is a way to deal with Parkinson's in a positive way. Last week, Taylor Pettaway wrote a wonderful and thorough article, "Those With Parkinson's Fight Disease — Literally in Carson City." She told the story of forced intensive exercise at a local gym here. I want to show how that kind of exercise changed my life with Parkinson's for the better.
When I was first diagnosed in early 2011, I was not told much on how to live with the disease. I was told exercise was good, but not what kinds. I bought a DVD for Parkinson's exercise and it was showing me how to do exercises with chairs and some very basic stuff. It helped where I was feeling stiff, but it was certainly not challenging me. When I went to a physical therapist to deal with the stiffness in all of my muscles and the difficulty moving, I was surprised to see how bad I had gotten.
My physical therapist at that time went to check my balance. I had to walk a straight line going heel-to-toe, like in the drunk test. I could not do it at all. She had to put a safety belt around my waist to help me maintain balance so that I could safely continue to try. My walk was bad because my right arm would not swing and I was tightening up badly on my right side. My physical therapist taught me to walk like I was marching — forcing my right arm to swing. That was amazing. It looked funny, but it helped me work out some of the problems and get a smoother walk going. I remember being excited to show the "marching" walk to my movement disorder specialist, and she was very impressed.
A couple of years later, I found a physical therapist who did pool therapy and that helped a lot. In the water I could move muscles that I could not move well on land. Soon after that, we bought a Costco pool for the backyard and I was in there three times a day for about a half hour each time, just doing exercise that was too difficult to do on land. Being in the water was my "pain-free" part of the day. I was still having tremendous difficulty moving, and more frequently than not, I needed a cane. My wife would have to help me in and out of bed. I was not moving well on my own and losing more independence.
Around this time, about three years ago, I met a new physical therapist who specialized in Parkinson's: Dr. Nina Vogel, with Carson Tahoe Physical Therapy. Dr. Vogel and Cisco Rodriguez were featured in the article last week on Rock Steady Boxing here in Carson City. I always credit Dr. Vogel for giving me back my life.
When I first started with her, she had me do a sit-to-stand. This is where you go from a sitting position, to standing, without any assistance from the arms of the chair or anything. I was able to do a few of them, and they were not pretty. At the end of four months with Dr. Vogel, I could do 100 in a one-hour session while also doing a lot of other physical exercises.
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Dr. Vogel did a mixture of physical therapies for Parkinson's and really found things that would challenge my deficits and benefit me. She did not have a preset set of exercises because I have Parkinson's. She found more what I could do, what I needed to do, and she pushed me. She pushed hard. It was strenuous. But, I come from a strong, competitive family. When I saw things that I felt should be easy, but I had tremendous struggles, I pushed back hard. I fought to remove those deficits. A lot of it was ego. I felt too young to have such horrible struggles.
It was not easy at all. There were tears that would just come out in therapy. Same thing when I would do speech therapy and struggled with word-finding tasks or other cognitive exercises. But those tears just made me remember the struggle and then remember what to push to improve.
So, Dr. Vogel continued to push me and I took great pride in how I turned failures to success. Soon I found I went from being able to barely do one full pushup in Rock Steady Boxing sessions, to being able to do 25 of them. I loved feeling stronger and got "addicted" to challenging myself physically and mentally. I used to be really good with computers and used to train teachers how to use technology in the classroom. Technology is now very difficult for me and I get easily confused these days. Rather than lament over the loss, I find new challenges. My stepson was moving to Alaska and asked us if we wanted their chickens. We did. He said I had to build a chicken coup. I'd never built anything like that before. I found some pictures of one I liked, no measurements, and I attempted to build it on my own. It took me about six weeks, way longer than most people. But I did not care, I worked it all out myself and did most of the work myself. Now I do handyman stuff every single day. I challenge myself in thinking and being physical every single day.
Also, I found myself walking my "marching walk" for two miles every day for almost two years. Recently, because I usually unknowingly shuffle in my normal walk, my arches have fallen and very bad cramping and stiffness have made my feet more painful. That's okay; now I am looking to ride my bicycle more. I am starting with my exercise bike and riding 15 miles a day.
So the exercise helps me keep my body going. When it is a workout that challenges my mind as well as my body, it helps restore what the brain is losing from the disease. I still have a heavy regimen of medicines — 21 pills a day and two patches. One moment I may be moving like a normal person and an hour later I need help moving down the hall or getting into a chair. The meds do not treat the disease; they treat the symptoms. They attempt to replace what the brain is not producing. The exercise does that also. That is why so many of us love the hard work and see such a gain of benefits from Rock Steady Boxing.
This is where I want to ask the community's help with our gym. Everybody working at Tazmanian Gym is doing it as volunteers. They do not get paid at all. We have outgrown the old site and are moving to a bigger gym where we can have more room to exercise and hopefully add exercise equipment that will provide more challenges to improve our health. We need new equipment and safety materials to make it work better for us. Floor mats alone cost more than $6,000 dollars.
So, Cisco has started a Facebook page for donations. The gym is a 501(c)(3). Please help out the gym that also has specific programs for youth and for adults (without PD). These are talented, passionate people making a huge difference in our lives. We are hoping they will be able to create more programs to benefit more of the community. If you want to help, please go to
Brian Reedy, a former Carson High School teacher, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2011.