What’s that tapping noise?
Oh, right..., it’s me. It’s my Parkinsonian tremor, my fingertips knocking against the arm of the chair where I sit reading. Parkinson’s tremors have a frequency of 5–9 Hz. For me that translates as 4 beats per second. Tap, tap, tap, tap.
It’s not a very bad case—for now I’m just putting up with it, not taking medications, eschewing their side-effects. After all, by the age of 77, most people have to contend with something they didn’t foresee.
The irony of it, right? That I’ve spent most of my life devoted to normalizing human movement and here I am with a movement disorder. The gods are comedians.
Dopamine and Exercise
Parkinson’s Disease is characterized by a loss of dopamine producing cells in the brain. Dopamine is necessary for the normal function of nerve synapses. Loss of dopamine isn’t necessarily the cause of PD, though—that hasn’t been determined as yet. There’s tons of research, most of it funded by drug companies. I’m participating in a study, co-sponsored by The University of Southern California and the US Army, which is studying the relationship between exercise and cognitive impairment in PD. Exercise doesn’t increase dopamine levels in the brain but it does affect the efficiency with which available dopamine is recruited to serve brain circuitry.
The best exercise for this effect is both high intensity, i.e. cardio, and mentally challenging. So I’ve been attending boxing classes in addition to my usual yoga, walking and Tai Chi. Exercising for an hour a day doesn’t seem a high price to pay to keep my symptoms at bay.
Fatigue and PD
You’ll have noticed that I haven’t posted much lately. Fatigue—a sense of trudging through molasses—that’s another of my symptoms. I’m gradually learning how to navigate this. I often experience is something I’ve been calling “false fatigue.” It’s a sense of being stuck, unable to motivate myself. For many PD suffers this stuckness is physical — they get frozen on the spot and can’t take the next step. For me it’s more a kind of mental lethargy and carelessness. I’m learning to discern between being lazy and not having enough dopamine. And, the more I exercise, the less I experience doldrums.
I’ll have more to tell you about my experience as time goes by. But I can say this right now: the refined somatic awareness that I’ve been cultivating for the past 50 years is now serving me very well. I can’t stop my body from quivering, but I can release the tension and correct the imbalances caused by the repetitive movement of the tremor.
Please don’t be concerned about me. Good will come of this.
© 2019 Mary Bond