By Jan Jackson, guest contributor, diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2011.
Hi Gary, I find your posts fascinating - it’s great to share experiences and ideas and highlight research studies. I was diagnosed seven years ago and wondered if you’d come across anyone, like myself, who uses competitive tennis to slow down the progression of the disease?
Tennis seems to be the perfect exercise to help PD - the hand-eye coordination, sudden quick movements, the thinking process used to execute a shot. I now play most days - mainly doubles - for up to three hours. Luckily, our club has a lot of members so there’s never a shortage of people to play with. And the strange, but rewarding part is that my game is getting better! Four years ago I would never have dreamt that I would be winning club competitions and playing matches for my club in the Leicestershire league. I started playing tennis shortly before being diagnosed in my early 50s, enjoying coaching sessions and playing a couple of times a week with my children.
Then I started not feeling quite myself. In hindsight I'd had early PD symptoms for a while, such as loss of smell, tiredness and dry eyes through reduced blinking. But the symptom that made me go to my GP was when I noticed my left hand was stiff and I found it difficult to use a keyboard and do some everyday tasks. I was still able to throw the ball up to serve and run around the court but as time went by I found moving around more and more difficult and our club tennis coach noticed I was slowing down and limping.
Dopamine agonists helped a little at first but I felt I was in a downward spiral. I was still working as a local newspaper production journalist but finding it more and more difficult. I took voluntary redundancy but went back two days a week as a freelance. A couple of years later it was almost a relief (but not financially) when the work dried up because it was becoming a struggle for me. I’d had freezing episodes walking the couple of hundred yards to the office, was losing weight and was suffering from anxiety.
So with more free time I started to play more tennis even though my movement wasn’t great, but after playing I felt a lot better and it seemed to ease my symptoms. By then I was taking small doses of levodopa and soon worked out the best times to take the medication to get the most out of the tennis. That was a couple of years ago and I’ve gradually built up to playing 2-3 hours most days. I take 3-4 Madopar 125 a day as well as small doses of Mirapexin. This regime - along with a healthy vegetarian diet, walking our labradoodle for an hour first thing every day and practicing yoga - works well for me.
I do get exhausted and have to give in sometimes, but I’ve found the benefits of keeping vigorously active are overwhelming. I would be interested to know if anyone else has had similar success with tennis. Also, why it appears to work so well in keeping PD at bay.
for a related article.