If you happen to lose track of Gary Smith, there’s a good chance you’ll find him at Top Golf. He hits there for an hour a day.
“No one really knows I have Parkinson’s due to all the golfing I'm doing,” said Smith, 61, who was diagnosed in 2008. Smith was fighting fatigue and felt gravity literally pulling his body downward.
“When I walked my daughters down the aisle, you see a real stiff man,” recalled Smith. “You see me shuffling and I didn't know it."
Smith was finding it more difficult to control his movements because of the changes happening in his brain. Doctors told him exercise would help.
“I did marathons, triathlons, yoga, chased my wife around the house, hip hop, biking, boxing. Nothing really changed until I started golfing,” said Smith.
“Golf involves a very precise balance between mobility and stability and a combination of fine motor skills and gross motor skills,” said Dr. Martha McGraw, movement disorders specialist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. “Using those in a complex manner would certainly benefit brain function.”
Dr. McGraw said exercise in general not only helps people with Parkinson’s Disease—but reduces your risk for it because it helps the brain to repair and rebuild damaged networks, improves your brain’s ability to adapt, and protects against further damage.
“Next thing I knew, within a month I was feeling back to normal,” said Smith. “I feel like I’m back to my old self. I feel younger than I did probably in my 50s!”
Even his neurologist agreed.
“He’s had a dramatic improvement over the past six months or so since he’s become active with his golf program,” said Dr. McGraw.
It’s important to note each body is different. Smith’s just happens to enjoy and respond to this particular “par”-scription. Without changing his medications or dosages, he’s struggling less and feeling better than he has in years.
“[Golf has] changed me and I believe with all my heart that if someone tried it for a month -- three or four times a week -- they would feel a difference," said Smith.
To date, there are no specific scientific studies that indicate golf is good for people with Parkinson’s Disease. Neurologists we spoke with say as a form of exercise they do support it. The physical benefit plus social aspect of the game enhances a patient’s well-being.