Living well with Parkinson’s Disease: Exercise, attitude, support

·4 min read

There are more than 100,000 people across Canada living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD).

Yet, to Don Tallman and John McKenzie of North Grenville, it seems that the prevalence of PD goes unnoticed: people don’t talk about PD or know where to go to find support.

Don and John each received their diagnosis in 2018. Since that time, they, along with their wives Nancy Miller-McKenzie and Diana Tallman, have been determined to “live well with Parkinson’s.”

Community-wide understanding of the prevalence and what is involved in living well with PD is especially important as fundraising efforts for the Parkinson Canada SuperWalk begin.

Before Don was diagnosed, Diana says she, “didn't know anybody with Parkinson's except Michael J. Fox.”

But soon after his diagnosis, the couple began attending a gym in Ottawa called Boxing 4 Health. Boxing is recommended by neurologists as a method for slowing the progression of PD, and Boxing 4 Health specializes in exercise programs for PD.

They offer a number of in-person classes, as well as classes over zoom. Once at the gym, Diana realized what a wide array of people live with PD: “It’s not about your age, your race, your gender. It just happens.”

John and Nancy attend Boxing 4 Health as well, and have also frequented some Kemptville based programs designed for managing PD.

Prior to Covid-19, The Workshop Dance Studio held weekly classes for residents with PD. Dance, like boxing, works the core, challenges balance, and involves what Nancy calls the “focused intensity” so important for managing PD symptoms.

Nancy recalls that she was astounded,“just seeing how many other people locally, about 20 or 30 of them, were going to that group. I'm hoping Tanya [Collins] will bring it back as soon as Parkinson's Canada allows her to.”

Programs like these connect the elements crucial to living well with PD: Exercise, attitude, and support. Nancy remembers the feeling of “just being with people who are going through it. The community. It's a huge community. Locally there are a lot of people who are going through Parkinson's and I don't think anybody even knows it.”

Don not only appreciates the opportunity for a workout, but being in a space in which “the majority of the people in there are in the same situation as you are.”

Programs like Boxing 4 Health or the class offered at The Workshop link the physical activity needed to slow progression with a built-in network for support. In turn, fitness and support are the foundations of a positive attitude.

John explained that exercise programs provide a psychological benefit to him and other people living with PD. “If you don’t do anything, you let Parkinson’s take over. Whereas, if you do exercise, you'll feel better because it slows down the progression. You still have the disease. But at the same time you can say to yourself, ‘I’m doing pretty good.’ You won’t feel as depressed.”

Of course, it can be difficult to adopt an exercise program as a way of managing PD when you weren’t a person who exercised before a diagnosis, or if you don’t have a strong network of support.

One of the benefits of these programs is that they invite accountability. Diana said, “Socializing is really key in fighting PD and have all your friends, family, and fellow fighters in your corner. It is really important to stay positive and not isolate yourself.”

Don and John are beginning their fundraising efforts for the Parkinson Canada SuperWalk this September. The SuperWalk is the largest PD fundraiser in the country, but participation and amounts raised have declined with Covid-19.

Nonetheless, last year Don and John fundraised with the Boxing 4 Health team, who raised nearly $100,000.

This money not only contributes to research for a cure, but also funds the increasing need for support, education, fitness programs, and advocacy. These programs matter to people in our own community, and offer the exercise, attitude, and support necessary for living well with PD.

Every dollar counts. Like the motto at Boxing 4 Health says: Our challenges don’t define us, our actions do.

Look out for fundraising jars at shops across North Grenville, or visit one of the following links to donate to Don at www.donate.parkinson.ca/goto/tallman or John at www.donate.parkinson.ca/goto/John_McKenzie

If you’re interested in joining the Boxing 4 Health team to help with fundraising efforts, email B4Hsuperwalkteam@gmail.com

Rachel Everett-Fry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Grenville Times

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