The latest book on my list of summer reading is one that gets me excited about possibilities for change in our lives through — you guessed it — exercise. And it’s not just exercise for your body, but also for your brain. The brain and body work together, of course.
Norman Doidge, M.D., has written a fascinating book, “The Brain’s Way of Healing,” in which he dedicates a very large segment to Parkinson’s disease. In the chapter, “A Man Walks Off His Parkinsonian Symptoms,” Dr. Doidge informs that when we walk fast, regardless of our age, we produce new cells in the hippocampus, the brain area that plays a key role in turning short-term memories into long. The adult brain can form new cells to replace those that died, as the liver, skin, blood and other organs do.
The general rule, it seems, is that our brains are more likely to waste away from underuse than to wear out from overuse — as long as one builds up to exercise slowly and rests in between sessions. Certainly, the best time to begin exercise is before the disease has progressed too far.
Dr. Noidge talks of “Learned Nonuse.” He acknowledges that “Parkinson’s patients are caught in a tightening noose. They may be helped with fast walking, but fast walking is precisely what they cannot easily do.” The PD patient who cannot walk does not stay still — his disease gets worse.
Physical exercise, combined with mental stimulation, is key to keeping your brain healthy. Mental stimulation is not just watching American Ninja Warriors on TV, but immersing yourself into an enriched environment. This could be solving jigsaw puzzles, going to the zoo, or concerts or plays, playing music, and countless other ways.
Some years ago, I had a “bad” right shoulder. I couldn’t raise my right arm high enough to comb my hair. There were other restrictions and I eventually trained my brain to accept my left hand/arm for certain tasks. I put my right arm on hiatus, a form of learned nonuse for that arm. Dr. Edward Taub, a renowned neuroplastician, discovered this same result when working with stroke patients who had one side paralyzed. If he restrained the useful limb from use, the paralyzed arm learned to be useful.
This is all so technical and much of it is hard to remember the first time through, so I can recommend this book to you. However, the local library had to request a copy from the Fontana library. After reading a portion, I ordered a used copy through Amazon. This is to inform you, in case you might take an interest in reading it. Dr. Doidge also penned The Brain That Changes Itself, which I have not read.
Many readers know of the value of a Parkinson’s disease support group. The local group in the Victor Valley meets every second Thursday of the month at Sterling Inn in Victorville, at 10:00 AM. You can also go online for support and discussion. Several groups exist on Facebook: Parkinson’s Online Chat Room; Parkinson’s -The Young and the Rest of Us; Parkinson’s Forum -The Parky Chat & Social Group; Parkinson’s Place of Positivity and Peace. This is a healthy form of mental stimulation.
The next Parkinson’s Awareness Support Group meeting will be September 14, 2017. I will look for your smiling faces there. Meanwhile, Keep Looking Up!
Ann Miner is a freelance writer and author of books for children and adults. Contact her at