Did every family in the 1950’s live in a friendly suburb with a housewife mom and an insurance salesman father who arrived at day’s end to a home-cooked meal, shared jokes and stories over dinner and offered sage life advice to his children? In retrospect, it sure seems like the “typical” family of the day – sometimes the father was more maudline; sometimes more earnest, but all seemed to be the Robert Young-prototype that was “Father Knows Best”.
That wasn’t my family. I’m sure it wasn’t many of my friends’ families either. My parents both worked, we lived in an apartment for many years. I’m sure these were difficult times for them as they worked without a lot of support to carve out a life for the family. I don’t recall a lot from those early years but I do remember my father worked long hours at a grocery store and always worked to provide his children with more opportunities in life than he had.
I vividly remember though my defiant years as a teenager when, out of ignorance or willful intent, I would induce his wrath or simply invoke disappointment.As I recall, he didn’t really respond in a Robert Young-esque manner to say the least!
When I moved away for post-secondary education, he still didn’t know it all. The time came for him to retire from work in 1983 and he had no plans for his retirement. He was just going to live from day to day. Meanwhile, I was studying gerontology (“old man; the study of”) at university and knew that he was wrong. All the research said you must have plans in place. You can’t just stop work and do nothing. He was making a mistake – he’d probably drop dead within a year. Why would he be so stubbornly uninformed?
Well, some 33 years forward, and you’ll find my Dad quietly proving me wrong. He has never come up with that “plan” but has kept himself occupied and working on a daily basis. While he has had some health challenges through these years, he has continued to be as active as he can be. In fact, as my Parkinson’s has advanced, I find myself looking to him for any secret to his physical stamina.
Apparently, I am not alone. Nor is he.
A recent study at the University of Michigan, and discussed in a recent Foxfeed Blog from The Michael J Fox Foundation, looked at activity levels of older persons with PD. It suggests that every day physical activity, perhaps more so than vigorous exercise, is associated with less severe motor symptoms. Here’s more of what they reported.
The study team enrolled 48 people with PD, most with moderate severity of disease. Each had an imaging scan to measure brain dopamine change and completed a survey that asked about time spent doing various physical activities — both exercise and other actions such as housework and visiting local events.
They found that increased motor severity (measured by the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale) was associated with decreased duration of non-exercise physical activity even when accounting for brain dopamine change, levodopa medication dose, age and duration of disease. Translation: those people who did more puttering and low-impact activity had less severe motor symptoms. Further analysis showed the biggest impact on slowness, gait and balance, more so than rigidity and tremor.
“The study indicates that disability of Parkinson’s is not just from the brain disease itself but also a consequence of a sedentary lifestyle. Non-exercise physical activity has an independent outcome on patients’ motor impairments…”
More puttering. There’s the rub! No intense, stepped up exercise regime. No marathon biking or running. No marathon anything! Puttering.
My Dad is 90; 91 come September. As the years have gone by, and as I have had a family of my own, I obviously have come to look at him through a different lens. I don’t know how he had the patience sometimes to put up with some of my antics growing up. I am appreciative of the personal sacrifices he made for his family and for me as his son. I also find myself surprised at the things I’ve learned from him. The latest being this – in my struggle with PD-induced lethargy and a sedentary lifestyle, his ability to keep active – as much as he is able – to keep puttering – is most certainly one of his enduring strengths.
Maybe, just maybe, in this one case, father knows best. Perhaps.