Updated: Apr 24, 2019
"Puttering? What the heck does that mean? Playing golf? Are we supposed to go golfing in order to help with our Parkinson's symptoms??"
Hey, I understand the confusion. Puttering isn't really a word, I don't think... Oh wait, it's in the dictionary after all!! You know what that means - time for Tom's definition of the week!
"Putter (verb puttering) - occupy oneself in a desultory but pleasant manner, doing a number of small tasks or not concentrating on anything particular"
So... "puttering around", in this context, doesn't mean to go grab your putter and head out the door to the golf course ("Honey I'm going golfing for my Parkinson's", "You're WHAT? Not till you fix the leaking faucet in the kitchen!!"); but rather means to go about your daily living and doing your everyday activities. But what has this got to do with Parkinson's?
We all know that mantra that is drilled in our head time after time once we are diagnosed with PD: EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE! Right? And usually that means some kind of vigorous exercise like cycling, boxing, running and so forth. Well, it turns out that not only is vigorous exercise useful, but it's now been found that doing your everyday physical activity - i.e. puttering - can even be more effective with lessening of one's motor symptoms!
Sitting is BAD
I'm sure you have all heard that sitting all day is a bad thing - whether at work, or at home all day watching TV and eating chocolate covered ants (!). It is this sedentary lifestyle that is associated with a lot of bad things - obesity, diabetes, and even worse stuff. And even more so for us parkies - those that sit all day end up with much worse motor symptoms than those who move.
So how did we come to that conclusion? There was a study done at the University of Michigan where they took a group of parkies - most with moderate severity - and put them through various scans, tests, and such. What they found was those who did more "puttering" and low-level activity during the day had LESS severe motor symptoms!
"WHaaa-t??" Yep, turns out that those of us who move around during the day, doing various tasks (including household chores, unfortunately) ended up not only feeling better; but found that their gait and balance were better!
Well, that may be a little more complicated. The research seems to indicate that not only is Parkinson's disability the result of the actual brain disease itself, but also can be a consequence of having a sedentary-type lifestyle. If you sit and do nothing - no exercise of any kind - it can actually make your motor symptoms worse!
They also believe that puttering may use a different brain area than does vigorous exercise; that's why puttering seems to help better than exercise in improving your motor symptoms. It's also possible, they suggested, that the brain builds in some kind of 'habit formation' for puttering activities and can therefore build better motor routines to meet the demands of our daily lives.
So I Should Just Putter All Day?
By all means, putter all you want - but you should still maintain some kind of vigorous exercise along with your puttering. Puttering may definitely help with your motor symptoms, but vigorous exercise has been shown to positively help with the disease process itself; in other words it very well may help slow down the progression of PD. So do both if possible!!
What Puttering Activities Can One Do?
So what are some 'puttering' activities we can do? Well, the list is quite long, including such things as:
Walking the dog
Cleaning the house
Working in the garden
Building a time machine in the basement (Ha - just seeing if you were paying attention!)
Or any kind of small, pleasant type of task
The basic idea is that whatever we do, we are MOVING! In fact, something like a FitBit or phone/watch can help - a lot of these devices can sense when we are idle for too long and remind us to move (although they can be annoying at times... "Move? I'm driving the car, I'm already moving!!"). Or you can schedule an alarm on your phone for various times during the day to remind you to get up and move around.
How do I apply this principle?
I've said that with my new blog philosophy that I would try to put my own use of these discussion ideas into play. So what do I do to "putter" every day? For me, that is kinda easy; you see, I've been the type of person that is always on the move! Up, down, going here or there, organizing this or that... you get the picture. My mom always reminded me that even as a child I was in motion all the time - in fact, I remember her stories of traveling on a bus trip, and having me on some kind of 'leash' (?!?) - otherwise, as she said many times, I would be off and gone in an instant!!
And even now, I am still the same way (but no leash!). Oh, sure - because of the PD I am moving more slowly than before; but still moving. So I am pretty much a poster child for puttering - if it's vacuuming the house, working around in the garage, organizing things (which my poor wife usually want to keep an eye on me so that I don't throw out something of value!) - no matter where I am or what I am doing, I am usually on the move - or at least attempting to do so!
And don't forget the mind too! Yes, you can 'putter' in your mind as well by simply doing mental activities - crosswords, logic games, reading books, figuring out the meal list for the week, even arcade/video games (cool)!
On the other side of the coin, I've heard of folks that I once knew (work peers, friends, etc.) who also got Parkinson's and basically 'gave up' - didn't exercise, took up bad habits, and sat around and did nothing for themselves. I'm sorry to say that a lot of these folks didn't last long - I believe it's not just a matter of mind (i.e. giving up) but also it's the physical activity that can keep us going longer. So no sitting around for me!
How can one get onto the 'Puttering' bandwagon?
First of all, it can sometimes be difficult to build in more activities into our daily lives. Things such as: Our busy lifestyles; apathy (lack of motivation); the extent of our disease progress; physical barriers (location perhaps - like winter in Michigan!); and other issues can interfere with us getting more activity into each day. But we can do it if we try!
So the first thing to do is, just like any other exercise, set modest goals. Don't go out and start your 'puttering' for 24 hours a day (hey we gotta eat and sleep too, ya know) - start slowly and build it up. This is especially important if you are more advanced in the disease. Plan out specific chores and activities; even listening to music while puttering around can help pass the time and keep you and your brain entertained. If you have kids, grand kids, or even a dog, spend more time with them - they never stop moving and most likely love spending more time with you! But don't forget your vigorous exercise as well - if you need help in that area, see your doctor or PT person to come up with a plan.
Bottom Line: Move folks!
If you want to lessen your symptoms of PD, then we have to get off our bottoms and MOVE! I know, I know, that can be easier said than done - especially when our disease moves to the more advanced stages. But no matter what stage we are in, we should LIVE AN ACTIVE LIFE and move as much as possible! Just increasing your daily activities (puttering) may be enough to help improve your symptoms - maybe even more so than vigorous exercise! And that most definitely is a GOOD THING!
Well, that completes another blog entry. I better get going - gotta go vacuum the house and then put in that new faucet (wife cheering in the background). So putter on, people!!