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It affects an estimated seven to ten million people worldwide. It can cause tremors in your body, loss of movement, and changes in your speech and writing, among countless other devastating symptoms. And it can’t be cured.
Living with Parkinson’s disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the world after Alzheimer’s, can be as life-changing as it is debilitating. But in Austin, Texas, one sufferer has found a handy way of limiting its detrimental effects while forming a healthier lifestyle for himself all the while.
Tom Walter has been a keen cyclist for more than 50 years and, since he began to be affected by Parkinson’s, has found that regular trips for groceries by bike has ‘slowed down’ the disease taking hold, making it easier to manage while also keeping him in shape.
“The best way we can delay Parkinson’s is to remain active, so I try to do my short distance errands by bicycle,” he says.
“Often I need to go to Costco once a week as they have the best deals on fresh fruit, salads, and assorted perishables. This means bulk items (toilet paper and paper towels) are done at other times, but if you plan ahead you can combine other trips for such bulky items.”
Of course, it’s easy for such a degenerative disease to bring with it some unwanted by-products, too. In many cases, Parkinson’s can also be accompanied by additional issues such as eating and chewing problems, sleeping disorders, depression and many more.
Parkinson’s and Cycling: Bike Therapy
With that in mind, then, Tom feels his usual routine is rendered all the more pivotal to prevent Parkinson’s becoming even more problematic than it already is for him, with cycling the cornerstone of his mantra:
“The key to managing Parkinson’s is exercise, eating sensibly, and getting a good night’s sleep. Cycling helps as I need to get exercise, and the more intense exercise helps me sleep better at night. It is progressive, but exercise helps delay that progression.
“It is also critical to eat sensibly. Fresh fruit and salads do help. Oranges, apples, bananas, berries being among daily items consumed. I found buying in bulk was counterproductive as I bought too much, and too much food spoiled before I devoured it.
“Cycling means you are not only thinking about what fuels your body, but how to do it healthily.”
When shopping, Tom uses two panniers, having splashed out on some waterproof Arkel 42-litre bags once he found his Kirtlands from 1983 were a little undersized for his recumbent. This has eliminated the issue of having to load up a huge shopping trolley, and again deters him from buying more than he really needs.
The average US shopper spends roughly $60 a week on groceries, but as a result of his own approach, Tom adds that he falls slightly below this at near the $50 mark.
And while a weekly saving of about $10 may seem like a drop in the ocean, when you consider that the average cost of Parkinson’s medication in America is $2,500 a year, his more frugal approach could prove crucial in allowing him to afford the treatments he needs.
“The biggest challenge to shopping is not overbuying. I have two 42L panniers that clip off a rack, so I take my bags and put them in a cart while shopping, loading each bag with about the same weight.
“At the checkout stand, I unload one at a time, head down to other end and reload making sure heaviest items on bottom lighter as it goes up.
“You tend to plan meals for the next two to three days. I am also much more likely not to make impulse buys at Costco that I otherwise would have. In the past, I would go in to buy a large package of nuts (my source of protein) but find a shopping cart full of items I had planned to buy.
“With the bicycle and panniers suddenly, you cannot carry too much, have to stick with a shopping list, skipping those fine chocolates that are so tempting. I do make room for the 2.5-pound bags of coffee as they are so much more economical than my local store.”
Footwear has also been a problem, though thanks to the mountain biking shoes with recessed clips that Tom now wears, he says, “I can walk around the store without sounding like I have tap dance shoes.”
Perhaps his vast experience and love of cycling stood Tom in better stead than most for these shortcomings; from first grade, he rode to the school he lived two miles from, and had a great passion in his 20s for touring by bicycle – he rather cheerfully recalls the time a German Sheppard chased him down an Irish country lane, for instance.
And he admits he finds it funny just how committed his colleagues can be to driving to and from work, or the gym – “They fail to see they could leave the vehicle at home and cycle to work to get in a decent workout!”
Evidently, though Parkinson’s may be an uphill battle for Tom, it certainly hasn’t diminished his passion for life’s ride.