Walking Well with Parkinson's

Walking Well with Parkinson's

By Ivan Suzman

Originally published in Spring 2004 issue of PDF News & Review.


Walking is an essential part of Parkinson's wellness. The warm days and breezy evenings of late summer and fall offer people who have Parkinson's some of our best opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. It is essential for us that we walk carefully. Here are a few ways to prepare that can help you make the most of your walking experiences.

Involving your Physician

Before starting any exercise program, it is important to check with your doctor. It is also necessary to note how long your doses of pills are effective when you are exercising, as compared to when you are less active. If your metabolism speeds up when you exercise, your medications may be used up more quickly. To be safe, consult your neurologist about adjusting your daily schedule of medications during the part of the day when you are more active.

Preparing for "Off-Periods"

An "off-period," always disruptive to your daily schedule, could be especially immobilizing - even dangerous - if it comes upon you while walking. A good idea in general, especially if you experience "off-periods," is to ask a caregiver or friend to be your walking companion. Stick to familiar territory and relatively flat ground. Carry a travel pillbox to help overcome freezing spells. www.forgettingthepill.com offers several convenient pillboxes, including a pack of two travel key chain pillboxes for $9.99.

Dana Burnell, of Sammamish, WA, recommends taking along your cell phone in case you are struck by an "off-period." (Visit your local wireless dealer to find a convenient carrying case for it.)

Staying Hydrated and Refreshed

Ask your walking partner to carry your beverage of choice. Mine is non-carbonated, lime-flavored Poland Spring water, which typically costs less than a dollar per bottle. Sports drinks and fruit juices are also good selections to supplement water. Tonic water with quinine from your local supermarket may be helpful in relieving muscle cramps.

Keeping your Balance

If you like to walk, but don't always have confidence in your balance, Bill Franklin of Los Altos, CA, suggests taking along a balance aid such as a cane or walking stick. These come in a variety of styles and colors, and you can even have them custom-made at www.houseofcanes.com. Or you can make a walking stick from a fallen tree branch (1" - 2" thick). Note: the stick should be sturdy and at least as tall as the walker.

Gearing up for Weather

Appropriate gear is essential for a successful walk. Protect yourself from rain and sun exposure with umbrellas, rain slickers, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. For a sunscreen that won't rub off or run into and sting the eyes, try Coppertone Sport. It is available in most drug and grocery stores for about $15. Insect repellent is also a must to protect yourself when walking.

Finding the Right Footwear

I suggest wearing comfortable sneakers that have good support and plenty of toe room. Velcro closure tabs can liberate you from the challenge of tying shoelaces. One example is Dr. Scholl's Genuine Leather Athletic Walking Shoe, pictured in the recent Dr. Leonard's catalog and available for $19.99 plus shipping at www.drleonards.com or by calling (800) 785-0880. The same catalog also features lace-up shoes such as Dr. Scholl's Skid-resistant Women's Walking Shoes, which cost $29.99.

To take advantage of a variety of excellent shoes, shorts, tops and raingear, visit L.L. Bean at www.llbean.com or request a catalog by calling (800) 813-7386. I like the Sport Sandals, which are available for both men and women. They feature a firm heel strap that keeps the foot from rotating at the ankle joint. The closures are durable nubuck lined with smooth neoprene for cool comfort, thus providing stability and freedom at the same time. The sandals sell for $39.00, and carry the L.L. Bean lifetime warranty.

Walking to Raise Funds

Now that you have read about several ways to walk comfortably and are ready to get up and go, consider walking not only for your own health but also to raise money for Parkinson's research. The biggest game in town is the Parkinson's Unity Walk - organized each spring by the Parkinson Alliance, (866) 789-9255 - held in New York City's beautiful Central Park. There are many other walks across North America, some of them directed by the APDA, (800) 223-2732, and the NPF, (800) 327-4545. You can walk, ride in a wheelchair, or be part of a team to raise funds for other walkers. You will enjoy meeting many other people in the Parkinson's community while you help raise substantial funds for important PD research.

To find a walk in your area, visit www.pdf.org and check out our events calendar. For suggestions on organizing your own walk, call PDF at (800) 457-6676, or email info@pdf.org. The PDF staff would be happy to provide tips to help make your walk a success!