Heavy Exercise and Parkinson’s Disease

Written by Carlene Hammonds

Two very important things happened in our family in 2013. The first, my husband, Rich, was diagnosed by the Veteran’s Administration as having Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The second, he retired from the United States Air Force after serving for 33 years.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, PD is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system. The symptoms usually emerge slowly and, as the disease worsens, non-motor symptoms become more common. No one wants to see their loved one suffer, so I began to research ways we could not only slow the progression of my husband’s PD but halt the disease entirely.

When I began researching, I found a report that discussed the correlation between heavy exercise and an improvement in noticeable symptoms. Heavy exercise seems to significantly slow down the progress of PD because it keeps the mind and body connected. Intense, coordinated exercise requires the brain to work together with the body and muscles. Other studies also focused on the positive chemical side effects including increased blood flow, oxygen, and additional dopamine and endorphins in the brain.

This was good news for my husband, who has enjoyed exercise since he was a kid growing up in the YMCA. He understood the importance of physical fitness and carried that understanding with him into adulthood. To think that an increase in the frequency and intensity of exercise could help his symptoms improve was reason enough to try.

Rich began working out five to six days a week. He “took” exercise almost as one would take their daily medications. We found that heavy exercise reversed Rich’s PD symptoms. Everyone who knew his story was amazed. For several years, Rich was doing much better than the neurologists had predicted. However, when the gyms closed in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions, Rich’s Parkinson’s symptoms began to progress quickly. Rich is still working to regain the overall muscle strength and coordination he had before the Y was forced to close. As motivation, he has a goal of setting an Olympic weight-lifting record for his age group.

We believe what the Bible says in Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. This is evident for us each time we enter the Y. Everyone has something difficult in life to deal with, but we must remember there has to be a blessing in it somehow. If necessary, work to find the blessing in your situation, and always continue to be a blessing to others!

Carlene Hammonds is a member of YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City


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