In case you missed it, watch our archived Facebook LIVE conversation with Team Fox athlete Jimmy Choi and host of NBC's American Ninja Warrior (ANW) Akbar Gbajabiamila. In a live video that to date has received more than 47,000 views, Jimmy and Akbar discuss life with Parkinson's disease (PD), Jimmy's incredible ANW debut and ways that anyone can get involved in the pursuit of a cure.
Since we couldn't get to all of the hundreds of questions and comments submitted by the live audience, we asked Jimmy to share a few more of his tips on how he continues to live well with PD.
How do you deal with the mental aspects of Parkinson's, whether it be chronic depression for some or just the mental toll the disease can take?
Jimmy Choi: Living with Parkinson's is a never-ending mental battle. Cognition issues, depression or just the will to go on are constantly tested. I've been on all ends of this spectrum. For the first eight years after my diagnosis, I was on a rollercoaster battling depression and anger on a daily basis. For the past six years, I've been making positive changes to manage this. And honestly, I still fight with these emotions, but they certainly don't appear nearly as often. In times when it does happen, usually a combination of one of the below helps me. (Of course, everyone is different both physically and mentally, so please consult your care team if you are experiencing depression. I did and it helped.)
Exercise: You don't have to run marathons! Exercise just long enough to get the "juices flowing" and release endorphins that can give you a temporary boost. I believe this is one of the reasons I still exercise so much. On days when I just don't feel like moving, I force myself up and do 10 burpees. If that doesn't get me moving, I try again later.
Get a routine: I don't mean wake up, eat, work, eat, sleep, repeat. I often find that when I'm feeling down, I'm stuck in a rut of some kind. The work-eat-sleep routine is a "rut." Make sure to add family time, a walk around the neighborhood, organize the garage, scrape the grill -- anything different to break the pattern.
Find a new hobby: Learn how to stargaze, take on a new exercise routine, play games. Whatever it is, find something different to do or find different ways to do the things that you loved before your diagnosis. I love to cook. I used to have knife skills of a bonafide chef, but not anymore. I still cook but I change how I cut things. And I still have all my fingers!
Set goals: Now that you have a routine (and new things to do), set goals to do more or to be better at what you are already doing. Just remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither were my current abilities. I've pushed my limits over and over to get to where I am. Once you reach a goal, push it further out and keep going.
Think positive: You are going to fail. Let's say that together, again. YOU ARE GOING TO FAIL. Parkinson's or not, everyone fails. But there's a difference between "I can't" because I didn't try and "I can't" because I failed at trying. So when you do fail after trying, realize it's okay to ask for help, or better yet, try again a different way.
I make constant mental adjustments. For me, exercise was my trigger and key. That's why I went from running to cycling, to "Ninja-ing." The variety helps me keep things new.
Are there any foods you avoid or foods that have a negative impact on your Parkinson's? Are there any foods you eat to keep up your stamina while training?
Jimmy: I'll be the first to admit that for someone who may be described as "fit," I'm known to have some pretty bad eating habits. Sure, I eat things like ice cream, chips and steak, but that doesn't mean I don't watch what I eat or when I eat.
There are foods that are known to have a negative impact on the management of my PD. For example, I take Sinemet and it's well known that protein may inhibit the absorption of levodopa, so I try not to eat protein within 30 to 45 minutes of a new dose. I also have problems with constipation. While I'm terrible at drinking water, I do eat foods with high concentrations of water and fiber to help regulate my bowel movements. Foods like watermelon, mangos, apples, grapes or just about any "juicy" fruits. While I do eat junk food (i.e., ice cream, pizza and fried chicken), I try to do it in moderation (except for the ice cream). Generally, I try to stick to a very clean and whole food diet (i.e., minimal preservatives, lots of vegetables), but I am human after all. Did I mention I love ice cream?!
I've learned that in order for your body to work in its most efficient way, you have to give it the proper amount of nutrients, and I try my best to do so. I do that with whole fruits for energy and clean protein such as eggs and lean(er) meats to help rebuild muscle.
Do you ever have moments where people judge you because of your Parkinson's symptoms? How do you deal with those who don't understand the disease?
Jimmy: These moments are unfortunately more common than you think. It used to bother me, but today, I use these moments as an opportunity to educate and spread awareness. I believe that most people don't mean to judge and that once you explain the situation they tend to become more empathetic. Take time to engage instead of projecting anger. Stress will only make symptoms worse.
My way is to "kill them with kindness." I explain that I was diagnosed with PD at a very young age, and I'm simply exhibiting symptoms. Then, I offer to answer their questions. If they turn away, so be it, but most often people will engage with me. That now means there's one more person out there who knows about Parkinson's. Think of it this way: What's there to lose? You may never cross paths with this person again, so take time to speak with them. On the off chance you connect and become friends (it has happened to me!), the next time you meet, there won't be an awkward "how are you feeling?" moment now that they know you are willing to talk.
Do you have specific training needs, or specific sport machines that you use during training? Do you train alone or with a personal trainer?
Jimmy: I get this question a lot. I mean, A LOT! My training needs are forever evolving. The first thing I tell people is that my training started with "one." Just one. When I started, I was 80 pounds heavier, so I started walking one lap around the block. I started with one push-up, one minute running at a time. It took months and years to build up to the current endurance and strength levels I have today (six years to be exact). The ones became twos and twos became threes and so on.
And as my fitness level increased, so did my experience. I began to learn how my body, symptoms and medicine reacted to different activities. I use that information to build a plan around how to progressively improve and never settle for status quo. For example:
I train in a regular gym. My go-to is a local gym that has everything for every fitness level. Over time, as I grew more and more confident, I started adding time and membership at CrossFit and of course more recently, obstacle course gyms.
I adapt to specific training needs. When I started running on a treadmill (for winter training purposes), I took a few falls. My gym helped and provided me with a safety harness. Ask your local gym if they have something similar available. Today, my balance is better so I no longer use the harness, but occasionally I still may take a fall on the treadmill. As for equipment, when I started strength training, I relied on weight machines for their safety. As I built up my abilities, I slowly transitioned to free weights.
I don't start anything new without the help of an expert. The first expert is my movement disorder specialist. Second, I find a personal coach for whatever activity I'm doing. I want to be sure I'm making the right movements to ensure I'm learning the correct habits and proper technique. Over the years, I've used a personal trainer, a running coach, a strength coach, a CrossFit coach, an obstacle course coach and a swim coach. Not all at the same time, but I enlist the help of each at the beginning of any new activity until I gain confidence and knowledge.
Feeling inspired to get moving? Anyone can join Team Fox and help speed a cure for Parkinson's disease. Visit teamfox.org today for more information on how to get involved and read more about exercise and PD.
Editor's Note: Medical information listed here is the point of view of one person with Parkinson's. It is important to speak with your doctor if you have specific questions related to your care and treatment.