A trip to Japan in June confirmed what South Surrey resident Liz Campbell Holroyd already knew about Parkinson’s disease: that physical exercise is a key ingredient in the fight to slow its progression.
Now, she’s determined to get that message out to others.
From June 4-7, Campbell Holroyd, 61, attended the World Parkinson’s Congress in Kyoto, Japan – she was awarded a ‘scholarship’ from Parkinson Society British Columbia in order to attend, after her husband and others applied for her, and wrote letters on her behalf – where she listened to experts speak on the subject and met fellow Parkinson’s disease sufferers.
“It was a combination of neurologists, scientists, researchers, counsellors, psychologists – anyone associated with Parkinson’s disease,” she said. “A lot of young people, too… and there were breakout sessions led by people with Parkinson’s.
“Sharing stories, sharing information, and I made friends from all around the world. We’re like a family, a community. It was absolutely fabulous. Sometimes, it just helps to be surrounded by people who are going through the same things you are, so you don’t feel so isolated and lonely.”
Campbell Holroyd was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 50 – after first noticing a tremor in one of her fingers – though she had symptoms of the disease as early as 40, she realized after the fact.
The diagnosis of young-onset Parkinson’s disease came as a shock to her, as it would to anyone, but ever the positive person, she quickly began to learn as much as she could in order to ward off the disorder’s effects. She continued to work in advertising for three more years, before her full-time job became too onerous. She needed to take time for herself, she realized.
“I just couldn’t keep up, because Parkinson’s just robs you of your energy. I remember my neurologist telling me that it was just going to slow me right down, and it did,” Campbell Holroyd explained.
“I worked as long as I could, but I was burning out, and I knew that that in itself was going to progress the disease. So I went on disability and started my exercise routine every day.”
She had been told by doctors that exercise would help slow the progression of Parkinson’s, which typically advances slowly in people but affects individuals differently. Common symptoms include tremors, stiffness, impaired balance and muscle rigidity. Other non-motor symptoms can develop as the disease progresses.
There is no cure, but those with Parkinson’s can live long lives with the help of medication, therapy and even surgery.
Exercise helps for myriad reasons, Campbell Holroyd explained, from helping reduce stiffness and improving mobility, to ward off changes in the brain.
It can also help those with Parkinson’s disease sleep, she added.
“Anyone who has Parkinson’s will tell you that they don’t sleep, and that’s part of it, because you don’t have enough dopamine in your brain. That’s part of (the disease) – you lose your dopamine cells. They affect so much, and sleep is one of them,” she explained.
“Exercise helps. It’s gets you moving… and gives you a better chance of being able to sleep later.”
Campbell Holroyd was not an overly active person before her diagnosis – like many, she fit exercise in where she could, between juggling family and a full-time job – but in the years since, she has developed a weekly routine that includes walking, running, tennis, biking and trips to South Surrey’s 360 Strong Fitness, where she does circuit training under the guidance of trainer Chris Galbraith.
“I really got into exercise. I just listened to my neurologist and my social worker, and they just pushed exercise, exercise, exercise, and I listened,” she said.
“And in Kyoto, the exercise thing came across again, loud and clear. It’s just something I need to do. This keeps me strong.”
Now, she espouses the benefits of exercise to others. Earlier this month, she spoke at a local Parkinson’s support group, and she plans to do the same at next month’s annual Parkinson SuperWalk in White Rock, of which she is the organizer.
This year’s event is set for Sunday, Sept. 8.
“Usually I get up and welcome everybody, but this year, I’m going to tell them that I was at this conference, and that exercise is so critical. Whatever you can do – walk, swim, do yoga, anything – it’s important. I really want to get that message out there more than ever.”
Since the first White Rock SuperWalk in 2016, the initiative has raised $90,000 for the Parkinson Society of British Columbia. This year, Campbell Holroyd points out, the Surrey-based SuperWalk has been cancelled, so she is hoping the White Rock event will draw even more participants.
The walk – which includes 1.5- and 2.5-km routes, as well as a five-km run – begins at Kintec Footwear (15185 Russell Ave.), at 10 a.m. Registration begins an hour earlier.
Campbell Holroyd will lead Team Elizabeth at the event, which last year was the third largest SuperWalk in B.C., behind only Vancouver and Kelowna.
For more information, to donate to the cause, or to find an specific team’s fundraising page, visit www.parkinson.bc.ca/superwalk.