“A body in motion tends to remain in motion. A body at rest tends to remain at rest.” Sir Issac Newton didn’t just describe the laws of motion for all matter larger than sub-atomic particles, he also described one of the principles of living with Parkinson’s Disease. If you move your body, you will tend to keep moving your body. If you don’t move your body, it will tend to remain unmoved.
I recently had a chance to test this principle when I spent several weeks seated in a car on a cross-country journey, a round trip of roughly 6,668 miles. It’s a great tribute to modern life that we can cover vast distances while sitting down. But should we? Even for relatively healthy people, the answer is probably “no”.
Sitting can tear your body down in ways that are many and varied. And horrible. For instance, according to Web MD, too much sitting can…
• Increase your risk of heart disease to twice that of a person who doesn’t spend much of the day seated.
• Shorten your life, you are more likely to die of any cause if you spend a great amount of time sitting.
• Increase your risk of dementia.
• Undo the benefits of regular exercise.
• Increase your chance of getting diabetes.
• Result in deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot of the leg which can do serious damage if it breaks loose.
• Cause weight gain.
• Lead to spikes in anxiety
• Do serious damage to your back as it increases stress on your back muscles, neck and spine.
• Lead to Varicose veins Sit for too long and blood can pool in your legs. This puts added pressure on your veins. They could swell, twist, or bulge.
• Cause you to develop osteoporosis, Older adults who aren’t active may be more likely to get osteoporosis (weakened bones) and could slowly become unable to perform basic tasks of everyday life, like taking a bath or using the toilet.
• Drive up your risk for several types of cancer, including colon, endometrial or lung cancer. The more you sit, the more you increase your cancer risk.
If you think that is bad, take all those ill effects suffered by normal people and multiply them with the effects of inactivity on Parkinson’s Disease. In PD, inactivity leads to acceleration of the loss of ability to move, the loss of balancing ability, sleep disruption and constipation. Combine the effects detailed above on relatively healthy people with the additional downsides of inactivity and Parkinson’s and you have a recipe for misery that goes beyond garden variety PD. Who wants Parkinson’s and lung cancer? And why would you increase your risk of falling at the same time you are suffering increased chances of osteoporosis? Those osteoporosis-weakened bones are more likely to break in a fall.
I knew all this before climbing into the car for the extended cross-country excursion. And sure enough, I experienced a symptomatic increase, especially in my walking ability which was reduced to a painfully abbreviated shuffle for much of the day. But here is the good news. When I was able to resume my normal exercise routine, I regained my lost ability to move.
So for PD, exercise is similar to medicine, (and like medicine, should be used in consultation with your doctor.) If you don’t take your pills you will quickly be reduced to department store mannequin-status, stiff and immobile. If you skip your exercise routine you will gradually achieve a similar result. You can reverse either effect by applying the missing element. It’s the third law of Newtonian Physics, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”