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8 New Year's Resolutions I Have as Someone With Parkinson's Disease

This is what I’m aiming for in the upcoming year. I call it my “2020 vision.”

1. Make going to the gym my top priority.

Here’s what often happens on the weekend: I wake up Saturday morning, eat breakfast, then review with my husband all we need to accomplish today. Shop for the week’s groceries, pick up dry cleaning, get something we need at Home Depot, do some work around the house, pick up some prescription medicine at the pharmacy, etc. I try to work a trip to the gym into this schedule, but I’m not always successful. Going forward, I want to hit the gym first thing in the morning, then deal with the other tasks later.

2. Work out for at least 90 minutes. 

So much research has shown that physical exercise helps delay Parkinson’s progression. The clearest statement on this comes from another blog by fellow Parkie, Benjamin Stecher:

The only thing proven to prevent or slow the degenerating brain is a healthy lifestyle and plenty of exercise. Though the optimal ‘dose’ is unknown, the trend lines seem to indicate that the further these factors are pushed, the better the results.

Up until now, I tried to go to the gym three or four times a week, each time for an hour. But now I want to do more. An hour at the gym flies by, and I walk out the door feeling OK, but not like I’ve really pushed my entire body. Ninety minutes or longer will produce much better results, I believe.

3. Enter a few long-distance, open water swims this summer.

Last July, I ruptured my Achilles tendon, which sidelined me for the rest of the calendar year, both in swimming and in working out at the gym. I usually compete each summer in a few open water races that range from a mile to two miles, and last summer, I had to cancel all of them. I am itching to get back in the water again to swim these long distances. Entering these races forces me to train harder, and the after-race glow leaves me feeling serene for the rest of the day.

4. Accept that life is hectic, and go with the flow.

I find life, especially in New York City and its suburbs, is fast-paced and high pressure. Take Thanksgiving, for example. You work all day the Wednesday before, fight massive rush-hour crowds to get home, then you wake up early Thursday and start cooking and preparing all kinds of foods, using many bowls, pots and pans, and setting out a spruced-up table for the big feast. After everyone’s eaten, you work through the evening to clean up. It’s wild. I used to feel stressed out by the way so much of life (the workweek, the weekends, the holidays) seems to happen so fast, but now I’m putting myself in a new mind-set, accepting what happens, no matter the pace.

5. Read up on death.

This sounds morbid, but at this point in my life (I’ll be 67 next month), I want to learn more about death at an intellectual level, especially by reading things written by humans who are far smarter and more articulate than me, and who have thought deeply about the subject. I recently read Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” which caused me to think about my place in the world and whether I’ve lived too much for my own pleasure and not enough for the benefit of society at large. Can I now show more compassion and sympathy for others? (Answer: Yes. Work on it!) I also just read “The Art of Dying,” an extended rumination on having a terminal illness (advanced lung cancer), by Peter Schjeldahl in a recent issue of  The New Yorker. As an art critic for the magazine, he writes:

Death is like painting rather than like sculpture, because it’s seen from only one side.”

He then reviews in random, chaotic order some of the main, as well as trivial, events of his past. It’s like you’re getting an insider’s look at the thought processes of someone in the end stages of his life.

And then there’s the flat-out funny “Have Your Lost Your Mind?” by fellow Parkie Michael Kinsley (again in The New Yorker) who jokes about what lies ahead for the baby boomer generation, as so many of us will age and be kept alive by recent medical advances, even though we may go bananas in the process. Kinsley says:

Writing in [this magazine] a few years ago, I predicted that the ultimate boomer rat race would be the competition to live the longest. I stand by my prediction that, as the moment approaches, dying richer will come to seem pointless compared with dying later. But, on further reflection, I think I underrated the penultimate boomer competition: competitive cognition. The rules are simple: the winner is whoever dies with more of his or her marbles.”

All of this is rich food for thought.

6. Stay cognitively active. 

How? Read more books. Play more ping-pong. Write more blog posts and more poems, especially sonnets. Put myself in more situations where I’m forced to speak one of my two rusty second languages: Korean and Spanish. For example, I lived in Mexico as a high school student, and I majored in Spanish in college. But after graduating from university in 1975, I hardly spoke Spanish again. It was interesting that the two workers who replaced the tile floor in our bathroom last week spoke only Spanish. I spoke with them a lot and felt my linguistic ability coming back, as though through mist. I surprised myself by noticing tiny errors in my speech. For instance, I used the phrase “mujeres o hombres” (women or men) and then remembered in Spanish, the word for “or” (“o”) changes if the following word begins with the same sound.  I should have said “mujeres u hombres.” I was amazed I still held onto that intellectual tidbit.

7. Enjoy my handicapped parking tag. 

My husband had been urging me for years to get that tag you hang on your car’s rear-view mirror, which allows you to park in the reserved spots near the front doors to the shop or mall you’re about to enter. I kept resisting him for two reasons: First, I don’t feel handicapped. (“But you are,” he’d always respond.)  Second, the spaces reserved for handicapped drivers are often the worst places to park, precisely because they’re right by the main entrance, with pedestrians walking every which way and sometimes small children darting about, not to mention cars nosing their way into and out of other spaces. I’d much rather park far away from the entrance, where there aren’t a lot of cars, and where I have to walk a fair distance to get inside the building.

But here’s when the handicap tag pays off: when the weather is horrible (rain, sleet, bitter wind) and you want to get into the building quickly. Now, I’m delighted to have this tag ready if I really need it.

8. Enjoy my life as much as possible, and be more helpful to others around me.  ‘

‘Nuff said. Best wishes to everyone!

Getty image by thodonal

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