Every patient who walks into my exam room receives -- at no extra charge! -- a critical evaluation of their exercise regimen, or lack thereof. At this point, regular exercise has been proven so critical in the prevention and treatment of so many disorders, from depression to cancer to heart disease to the cold and flu, that in my not-very-humble opinion, any primary care doctor who does not investigate, evaluate and manipulate their patient's exercise program is committing malpractice. Yes, it's that important. It's like not taking a patient's blood pressure or pulse. A person's participation in exercise is one of the vital signs of wellness. Frequently, my job is to find exercises that will work within the boundaries set by a patient's existing disorder while at the same time optimizing it to reduce or eliminate the effects of that same disorder.
Among the chronic diseases, one of the most problematic in the exercise prescription department is Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Because of this cruel disease's frequently erratic behavior, coupled with its prediliction for shaving away a small slice of one's competence with each renewed assault, it is hard to find and develop good exercises for my patients suffering from this disease. What was possible last week becomes impossible the next. Problems in balance or sudden weakness can make many standard exercises impossible or dangerous. And the fear of such occurrences can negate even the most committed patient's determination and my craftiest motivation strategies.
Being a recidivist transportation cyclist, an environmentalist, and a man with a grip on the purse that would make a Scotsman proud, it has rarely come as a surprise to my patients when I suggest cycling as a good all-round exercise. Bicycles are cheap, and every time you ride it to the grocery store, you save money, while at the same time becoming healthier and increasing your longevity. As the great Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer once said:
"Let's have a moment of silence for all those Americans who are stuck in traffic on their way to the gym to ride the stationary bicycle."
Cycling would be an excellent activity for my MS patients as well, were it not for the unpredictable and troubling manifestations that could make it downright dangerous.
Which is why I suggest a fun, albeit unusual, alternative: Trikes.
No, these aren't your average 4-year-old's Big Wheel. I'm talking about performance trikes, trikes that have been ridden to the furthest reaches of the Himalayas, in the fastest bicycle races in the world, and on the road. They are trikes that can be ridden every day, as fast or as slow as you want, without concern for the types of crashes that can befall you on a two-wheeler.
For that reason, I think trikes are an excellent source of rich cardiovascular exercise for my patients with MS. And here's how many have taken me up on my suggestion: 0. None. Nada.
Well, all of my patients with MS, and all of you reading this blog who have MS or have friends or relatives who are suffering from the effects of MS, I want you to take note of this name: Denise Lanier. Denise is a writing professor at Broward College. Her poetry has appeared in Bloomsbury Review, Cake, Luna, Best American Poetry blog, and various anthologies. And she has MS.
In her blog, Wonky Woman on a Bent Trike, Denise writes about her two most powerful tools for fighting this disorder (in addition to her undeniable intelligence and phenomenal willpower): A mobility dog and her trike.
This weekend, after much training, Denise will be riding her trike in the New York City Marathon, as a disabled entrant in this world-famous race, and the first entrant to do it on a tricycle.
But is she doing it for herself? For an MS charity? Certainly not - that would be too self-serving for a woman as generous in spirit as her. Denise has chosen the Leary Firefighters Association as the beneficiary of the dollars she has raised. Go here to read what Denise has to say about the foundation. Then go here and donate.
But more important than any of that, read the words this woman has written, about herself, her MS, and her fight toward health. For anyone with a chronic disorder, she is an inspiration.
And I hope everyone reading this blog (all 6 of you) will join me this weekend in following her progress and cheering her on. In her most recent post, she suggests some ways to do it:
Here’re some ways for you to follow my progress in the marathon on race day, this Sunday, November 7th:
Online Athlete Tracker: free race-day service, visit ingnycmarathon.org on November 7th
Text Message Athlete Alert: sign up at ingnycmarathon.org to receive on-demand updates, one-time setup fee of $2.99
Tune In: NBC4 New York offers live coverage of the entire race; after the race catch the 2-hour highlight special on NBC Sports
Marathon App: for iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, download it today!"
Then go out and buy a trike. And ride it.
Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 860-567-5727.