|LE Magazine June 1999 |
Coping With Parkinson's
Despite the disease, Larry Powers leads a
full, energetic life.
As a professional body building cinching titles in the 1960s, Larry Powers never imagined there would be a day when walking or putting on a shirt would be an exhausting physical activity. But that was before he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease nine years ago at age 50, a disease that afflicts such notables as Michael J. Fox, Mohammad Ali and Janet Reno, among others. Still, if the disease has deprived him of much of his athletic prowess, it has also cultivated in him an inner strength to live life as fully as possible and a passion to share with others what he's learned about coping with the disease.
"I realize that I am disabled," says the 6-foot, 205-pound former Mr. America and recent recipient of a National Gym Association award for his pioneering contribution, dedication, life achievements and excellence in character in the field of health and fitness training. "I can't walk distances and I have to rest a lot, but I don't let this get me down."
Instead, he prefers to dwell on the many pleasures in life that are still open to him, such as fishing, for instance, which he finds replenishing, challenging and calming. (Everything that he catches, he releases.) An ex-marine, Powers used to walk miles to reach a remote lake, pond or river where he could cast his line. Today, he needs a ride to the jetty and a guide to help out and he sticks to calm waters, rather than mix the effects of his daily medication with ocean swells. But, he's still catching the big ones. He recently wrestled a big jack crevalle in Florida's Port Saint Lucie river for a full 45 minutes before bringing it in. His fiance-a masseuse and Powers' reason for getting up in the morning-Joanie Battaglia helped by steadying Powers' shaky leg.
That 45-minute battle was a brief interlude in his ongoing daily battle-against Parkinson's. "I get up very early to start the day," he adds. "It takes a lot of preparation to attack Parkinson's." Managing the disease, which is degenerative and affects the nervous system is, in his words, a "full-time job." Drawing on his lifetime dedication to health and fitness, Powers has taken that job seriously-coming up with his own "recipe" for coping.
The first ingredient in that recipe, says Powers, is spirituality: "I ask God each day to renew my spirit and give me the strength to go forward." Then there are the essential daily medications: carbidopa-levodopa called Sinemet, the standard Parkinson's treatment that he must take four times a day, and Eldepryl, an anti-aging MAO inhibitor (MAO is an enzyme that rules the dopamine in the brain). Together these medications help control the diseases' many debilitating symptoms such as hand tremors, muscular stiffness, rigidity and gait disturbances (walking disorders). "You can't live without this stuff," he says. "You don't walk without it."
But Powers has taken this list of standard medications and enhanced it. As a certified personal trainer, Powers always appreciated the health benefits of supplements, so when he became ill he worked on developing a comprehensive daily regime to address his disease. Taking Life Extension Mix two or three times a day, he says, has really helped him. But instead of diluting it in water or juice he puts 1/4 teaspoon directly on his tongue, then sips a little cold water and makes his mouth into "the blender." That way, he says, the mix gets into his bloodstream faster. He's been doing this for about a year and a half and finds it to be the best immune booster and anti-oxidant on the market. He also takes six capsules of Inholtra, which helps treat arthritis and is very good for the nervous system. A generous teaspoon of L-Glutamine, taken on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, followed by a tablespoon of Creatine Monohydrate, help transfer energy into the working muscles, serve as brain nutrients and also boost the immune system. "I notice that my tremors calm down when I take these products," he says, adding that he's been taking them now for two years.
Powers also takes niacin, zinc to boost his immune system and various oils, such as pumpkinseed for prostate health, and uses 800 IUs vitamin E and 1,500 mgs Ester C, for their anti-oxidizing properties and for brain health. Daily doses of Gingko Biloba also enhance brain activity. He also takes Gerovital GH3. "I believe that the combination of Eldepryl, Ester C and vitamin E is very good for the brain," he says. "It really cleans it out."
A good diet is also essential. To keep his blood clean and give it an alkalized base, Powers favors green drinks and vegetables, such as carrot juice and barley greens. He goes very lightly on sweets, noting that they disrupt digestion and also elevate his blood sugar. Blood sugar is a particularly dicey issue for people with Parkinson's-sometimes making them hypoglycemic, sometimes borderline diabetic-so Powers is especially vigilant. He has become accustomed to carrying snacks with him to munch on throughout the day, such as the ingredients for a protein shake or protein bars, raw peanuts, sliced turkey and cottage cheese. He stresses the need for fiber, eating plenty of cereals, oatmeal and different types of bran, adding that he has a bowl of a "nice, happy cereal" every evening. To fight perennial dry mouth ("We have mouths like the Sahara Desert.") he reaches for ice cubes or frozen, green seedless grapes and quench gum.
Physical activity is naturally a key component in Powers' fight against the effects of Parkinson's, and stresses that any exercise must be neurologically stimulating, rather than neurologically depleting. This means focusing on stretching the muscles or on the muscle extensors, as opposed to the flexors, which we work so often in daily life whenever we pick up a cup of coffee or brush our teeth. "You have to go the other way with Parkinson's," he says. "You have to reach back, like a swimmer doing the backstroke. I can bench press and squat 250 pounds, but I can't recover from that-my hands get like a claw, my feet get like lead and I can't walk out of the gym." To prevent this type of depletion he has designed about 25 different exercises that return energy to the body using light weights, exercise bands and the Total Gym, exercise equipment that totally supports the back.
Before his diagnosis, Powers was a great believer in the healing properties of water. Now that he's sick, he's even more convinced of those properties. Since Parkinson's weakens one side of the body to the extent that one leg presses down hard and the other drags, the disease makes it nearly impossible to get a cardiovascular workout on land anyway. Powers finds he can strap on an aqua-jogger belt, get into the deep end of the pool, and actually jog. He's even adapted his old bodybuilding-training workout, in which he did lateral arm raises using plastic garbage pail covers, so that he now uses ping-pong paddles instead. "The pool stimulates you and recharges you," he says of his early morning aquatic workout. "It works the peripheral nervous system and increases your heart rate. When you come out, you feel wonderful."
The last element in Powers' guide to managing Parkinson's is a daily massage, and believes that chiropractic care and traction are vital for musculo-skeletal problems. The daily massage, he says, should be very light and plucky, as opposed to a deep tissue or athletic massage that might cause fatigue for days afterwards. Massage helps in that it brings blood and oxygen to the muscles while at the same time eliminating toxins and lactic acid, which the damaged nervous system can't remove on its own. Massage also gives the recipient a feeling of wellbeing and returns energy to the body. "Because you have very little energy with Parkinson's, everything has to be returned to the body-not taken from it," says Powers, adding that he's lucky to have a fiance with years of experience as a massage therapist. Joanie is very helpful, he says, to all those who ask for advise on massage therapy. "You need the love, emotional support and caring of a mate or friend. I owe it all to her."
These days Powers wonders if the stresses of his earlier professional activities-17 years as a stockbroker, many years training for bodybuilding competitions, and years as a television commercial actor, doing take after take of dialogue-took their toll on his recuperative system, perhaps making him vulnerable to Parkinson's. But, he doesn't dwell too much on how his life might have been different. There's too much to do now, and too many other people in the same predicament to encourage onward.
"I've gotten to love disabled people. I like to talk to them, tell them a little joke, and share the day with them," he says. "They all look at me because I have big muscles and yet I can't walk too well. When I see someone hobbling down the street, I know they're the real champions."
"You have to have a dream in life," says Powers, "and you must pursue that dream." In addition to staying well and helping others, Powers would like to go fishing with those "great captains on EPN one of these Saturday mornings." And, given Powers' track-record, he'll bring his dream to fruition, and begin working on others.