30 Days of Parkinson’s: It’s Always a Good Time to Start Exercising

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30 Days of Parkinson's

Photo courtesy of Valerie Johnson

Day 18 of 30

Valerie Johnson has a doctorate in physical therapy (PT) and started Balance Therapy and The Parkinson’s Mind Body Institute, both in Texas. She answered questions from Parkinson’s News Today via email. This is her story:

Parkinson’s News Today: What are some of the challenges with Parkinson’s disease at diagnosis?

Valerie Johnson: Studies show that the majority of people with Parkinson’s are already withdrawn from sports, leisure, and recreational activities at diagnosis. Functionally, this is significant because the combination of a generally more sedentary lifestyle and a gradual loss of spatial and body awareness that accompanies [Parkinson’s disease] makes it hard for them to monitor and correct subpar posture and movements. 

PNT: Are there physical therapists who specialize in Parkinson’s?

VJ: Yes, a Parkinson’s physical therapist, like myself, analyzes movement and helps people gain awareness and relearn what normal movement feels like in all facets of their daily life. It comes down to establishing and maintaining cardiovascular fitness, postural awareness, a flexible body, and an ability to shift weight properly. Additionally, we help them identify ongoing resources for exercise to maintain their skills and fitness between stints of physical therapy. 

PNT: Exercise is the only thing we know of so far that slows the progression of the disease, so why wait?

VJ: With respect to physical therapy and exercise, I’ve found that newly diagnosed people are underserved because they may not know to seek it out. Exercise for [Parkinson’s] is specific and individual needs vary.  Thankfully, people are at least being told to exercise at diagnosis, but are not necessarily being referred to PT. I hope this message increases awareness among [people with Parkinson’s] and professionals that physical therapists are essential team members for managing [Parkinson’s] sooner and later. 

Also, it takes a lot of courage to start PT at diagnosis. Most are still coming to grips with the diagnosis. I am always humbled by how brave my newly diagnosed clients are. My mission is to empower [people with Parkinson’s] and to be there when they are ready. It’s never too early or too late to start exercising for [Parkinson’s].

Parkinson’s News Today’s 30 Days of Parkinson’s campaign will publish one story per day for Parkinson’s Awareness Month in April. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more stories like this, using the hashtag #30DaysofPAR, or go here to see the full series.