Free Spirit Fitness - Success Story

Lockers match 2018 - Copy

David Moffatt

‘You have Parkinson’s Disease’.

For the previous half hour the specialist had pushed and pulled my limbs about and had me writing endlessly long scripts and telling the time on different clocks.  I knew little about Parkinson’s, other than being appalled once at seeing Mohammed Ali receiving a trophy which he could barely keep in his grasp – that once supreme athlete reduced to a shaking wreck by Parkinson’s.

‘You look a bit taken aback’ said the specialist.

I came to Free Spirit and Victoria Jones, and from the outset it was clear that she understood what I needed and how we would get there.

My instinctive response would have been ‘well, wouldn’t you, if you had just been told that you had an incurable, progressive disease of the brain’. But I’m a polite person and could only mumble something to the effect that I had always kept fit and thought this should have protected me from such morbidities. The specialist responded that if I had been less fit my symptoms would probably have been more acute by this stage and he was keen that I started immediately on medication.

About six months before that fateful diagnosis I had decided that I needed help with exercising .  I had always tried to keep fit and had a small gym at home with a good array of equipment. I did a lot of cycling, and with my wife we walked the hills and moors of Northumberland. I kept detailed records of my performance which seemed to confirm that I was certainly not improving and was possibly going backwards. 

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I felt that I was putting in considerable effort for little gain and decided the answer was to work for a while with a professional trainer who could help to make my training more appropriate and effective.
I am nothing if not thorough. I searched the internet and came up with a shortlist of local Personal Trainers. Free Spirit was not top of the list because I was concerned that they might be more about ‘Trim Tums’ than the kind of fitness that I believed I needed.  After a few trainers that just didn’t meet my own specific needs, I came to Free Spirit and  Victoria Jones, and from the outset it was clear that she understood what I needed and how we would get there. I was confident that we were making progress but was nevertheless persuaded by my wife that my slow movement , noticed by several members of my family for some time now,  needed to be investigated further. Hence my appointment with the specialist and learning that I had Parkinson’s.

Since it was clear that I was now facing a long-term process, it was essential that my exercise programme provided variety and challenge

For a while I said nothing to Victoria as I felt that I had moved from being a fitness trainee to a medical case and that she would not want to be dealing with that. However, she had to be told and be offered the option of opting out. I well recall her response: ‘don’t be such a goose’.

An extensive search of the literature revealed that there was relatively little interest at the time in the UK in the link between Parkinson’s and exercise. However, in the United States there had been considerable research in the topic and the USA’s Parkinson’s Institute provided absolutely invaluable advice. The first step was to identify the negative impacts of my Parkinson’s and to determine what was needed to counteract these. This information was incorporated into an extensive flowchart showing the linkages between exercises and specific areas of deterioration. One thing that was glaringly clear was that because Parkinson’s affected so many functions we had to try to make sure that wherever possible any individual exercise was hitting more than one symptom.

So for example, an exercise or exercise sequence designed to tackle poor balance would be modified to incorporate some strength building. Or, looked at from a slightly different angle, certain routines hit a broader impact area. Certainly Yoga appeared to have a positive impact on a range of negative symptoms. 
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Over a period of time Victoria built up a large number of routines.  Since it was clear that I was now facing a long-term process, it was essential that my exercise programme provided variety and challenge. We had three sessions per week, with Victoria preparing a programme at the beginning of each week and woe betide me if I didn’t stick to it! While at the beginning of my working with Victoria, the focus was on maximising exercise impact, with time we moved more to a management of conflict. One of the most debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s is sheer exhaustion.

While I desperately needed to work my body to prevent the progression of the disease, overstepping the mark could leave me feeling sick and dizzy. I needed to maintain flexibility but in doing so I had to be careful not to over-stretch a body that was not getting any younger. It was a delicate balancing act  – push myself too hard and risk over- exertion , make the programme too easy and it would not provide the necessary benefits. Managing these conflicts required an acute understanding of the exercises (Victoria has a genius for breaking complex exercises down to component parts and slowly rebuilding the exercise to a manageable entity), and an equally acute ability to recognise how the body was reacting to the exercise regime.

I can’t stop getting older but I believe that many of the debilitating aspects of Parkinson’s have been controlled by targeted exercise

So where am I now?

Nearly eight years since the diagnosis I remain on a very low dose of medication (what my specialist calls the ‘beginners pack’). Other than to the professional eye there is nothing wrong with me. It is only in the last 12 months that I have told my children of my condition none of whom had spotted it in the preceding seven years. I continue to do all the things that I have always done –  walk, cycle, follow a prescribed exercise programme, play football with my grandsons and drive the 250 miles between my base in Warwick and my second home in the northeast.

Of course I have had to adopt somewhat lower expectations.  I say to people that we used to walk in the Lake District looking down at the lakes form the hilltops, now we walk looking up to the hilltops from the valleys!  I have no doubt that a properly tailored exercise regime has slowed the progression of my Parkinson’s.  I can’t stop getting older but I believe that many of the debilitating aspects of Parkinson’s have been controlled by targeted exercise .  Eight years ago I thought I would by now be showing many of the Parkinson symptoms while in fact I continue to lead a normal life.
David fieldwork

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