Keeping fit with Parkinson's
After being diagnosed with Parkinson's – a SuperSenior from Whakatane finds a fun and neat way to keep fit and healthy.
Rosalind Vercoe, now 74, shares the story of her three-year love affair with her Schwinn tricycle that generates plenty of interest in the Eastern Bay of Plenty town. That's her in the right of the photo above, on her trike dressed up for the Whakatane Christmas parade.
“Well,” said the neurologist walking back into the room where he had left my sister and I, after prodding and poking me, making me walk along the path outside, testing my balance, and asking me questions about my sense of smell, the state of my bowels and bladder, and more.
“What do you think is wrong with you?”
“Well I don’t know, that’s what I have come to see you for,” I replied with some spirit.
“Come now you are an intelligent woman you must have some idea!”
“Parkinsons?” I ventured tentatively.
“Yes of course. Now what do you know about Parkinson’s Disease?”
“Not very much, I haven’t even consulted Dr Google!”
A bit about Parkinson’s
After that rather inauspicious start he then proceeded to give me some very good information.
Firstly the fact that you don’t die of Parkinson’s disease but rather you die with it. Parkinson’s is caused by the degeneration of a group of nerves in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra which is located in the base of the brain. These nerves produce a chemical called dopamine. The lack of dopmine produces the symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Despite all the research being carried out we still don’t know what causes the degeneration of the substantia nigra, but we do know that the disease usually progresses slowly and there are drugs that will help replace the missing Dopamine.
But I mostly learnt about the importance of EXERCISE.
Find the right exercise with Parkinson’s
Everybody with Parkinson’s should try to get at least 20 -30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day. This could be walking, swimming, cycling, using an exercycle, or exercise classes. Because of an old back injury I can’t walk for any distance, so that was out. Strangely, although I used to swim regularly, I can’t swim anymore. I lose my balance and control of my limbs in the water. An exercycle? BORING. Two-wheeler bike? That felt a bit dangerous to me. Exercise classes sound good, but that would only be once a week.
Then I had a brainwave: What about a tricycle? It was something my late mother had always talked about getting. Was she still guiding me?
I inquired at the local bike shop and amazingly they had just taken delivery of one the day before. It wasn’t even assembled. They invited me to come back to try it out. Rather nervously two days later, I mounted the beast. When I set off it seemed to develop a mind of its own as I wobbled down the footpath, but I soon began to feel in control and that was the beginning of my love affair with my blue Schwinn tricycle.
Using the tricycle
I am fortunate to live in Whakatane which, besides being the Sunshine capital of New Zealand, has very little wind and a wonderful walkway/cycleway which stretches from the bridge to the river mouth, a distance of about 4 kilometres.
It’s paved all the way and provides a nearly-level safe ride along the ever changing river. The level part is important as, although the trike has 3 speed gears, it is heavy so it is a challenge for me to ride it up more than a gentle slope. I ride most days, although I don’t beat myself up if I miss due to inclement weather or other commitments. I definitely notice a difference when I haven’t had a ride for several days.
I love the changing scene of walkway. There are walkers, joggers, runners and stumblers. Young mums pushing strollers, families biking, old folk in mobility scooters, young bloods on skateboards and roller blades. One day I counted 14 groups whitebaiting. Sadly, no-one offered me any of their catch.
I love the way my unusual steed brings a smile to the faces of strangers. People call out things like “Love your bike” or “Gee you’ve got a neat bike.”
My biggest fans are small boys. One of my favourite comments was from a little boy who looked about three. He was riding a pintsize bike in front of his grandfather. He looked round and called out, “Look Koro, is that neat or what?” Another memorable remark came from a six year old who said “Look there’s a baby bike grown big!”
I often meet old friends out walking and make instant friends as people want to look more closely and admire. It is much more interesting than beavering away on an exercycle in the lounge watching the TV.
And is all this effort improving my health? I definitely think so. I am definitely fitter than I was 3 years ago when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Friends and acquaintances frequently tell me how well I am looking. Within myself I feel that I am keeping the disease at bay and that is important to me. I also attend a Parkinson’s exercise group once a week and that helps keep me on track with increasing muscle stretch and strength, and improving my mobility, coordination, posture and balance.
As Ann Andrews says in her inspirational book “Positively Parkinson’s” “The problem is that our Parkinson’s body has a habit of slumbering. It needs exercise everyday to remind it how much better it can feel.”
The Celebrity Trike
A special outing my trike and I went on was to join in the local Christmas Parade as part of my Lions club entry.
We had a mobility scooter turned into Buzzy Bee and my trike decorated – just like we used to do with our bikes when I was a child.
It was lots of fun although I think Buzzy bee had more fans than my trike. I have also used it to draw attention to Parkinson’s promotions.