Around 145,000 people are believed to live with Parkinson’s disease according to Parkinson’s UK, with many of those experiencing the condition aged 50 and above.
With symptoms ranging from tremors, stiffness and slower movement - as well as memory difficulties and mental health challenges - people living with Parkinson’s can quickly become isolated and overwhelmed by their diagnosis.
We spoke to vibrant gym member Kim Cousins who since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2017, has found attending our disabilities and long-term health conditions rehabilitation gym truly life-changing and believes that without it, she wouldn’t know where to go.
Kim Cousins’ life changed dramatically two years ago. Although the 60-year-old Limehouse resident had visited hospital twice before a Parkinson’s diagnosis - after experiencing a loss of balance and shaking - both Kim and her partner were convinced further attention was needed to fully understand Kim’s symptoms.
“Although doctors at the time felt the symptoms I had could be because of menopausal changes, stress and anxiety,” Kim says, “we felt it could be more and once we got a thorough diagnosis, we were told it was Parkinson’s; and it changed how I looked at life.”
Blessing In Disguise
Facing living with a neurological condition which although varied in its progression, is currently incurable, Kim felt mixed emotions.
While the former advertising screen printing production assistant felt bereft, she knew a diagnosis would give her appropriate awareness to tackle Parkinson’s as best she could.
Kim says: “It was essentially a blessing in disguise that I became aware of my Parkinson’s, as I then knew I could fight it and face fears and have the power to live as best I could with it.
“But It wasn’t easy to know where to turn and what the best routes would be, so once my doctor, my partner and I explored options, we felt a lot clearer on what practical and emotional support I needed.”
Being referred to Ability Bow last year, Kim first joined our charity exercise service - which formed in 2006 from previous organisation Ability UK - in January 2019.
Kim vividly remembers how daunted she felt just approaching a gym setting; given as she says, ‘corporate gym settings can often leave you with barriers’.
“I remember when I first joined Ability Bow for my first gym session, I couldn’t walk without a stick and cried at not knowing what I wanted to achieve and how to get there and feeling it wasn’t for me given how much work I needed to do,” Kim says.
Tailored By Tony
But after working alongside Ability Bow’s highly advanced and fully qualified inclusive fitness instructor Tony Snook - part of our five-strong specialist integral instructor team - on an initial 12 week one-to-one exercise schedule, Kim became assured she could move past her understandably tearful beginning.
Kim adds: “Tony put me so much at ease in the gym and tailored everything to my condition, which gave me both physical and emotional strength to work with my condition.
“The more I exercised, I realised you may have got the condition but it essentially hasn’t got you; I quickly felt, I can exercise, I can access the community and I’m not living in a label; all thanks to everyone here at Ability Bow.
“I remember when I first arrived I could hardly walk smoothly and could hardly manage sit to stand exercises and within just three weeks of sessions, I’d achieved a great amount including beginning to walk unaided, which felt huge to me.”
Given various home fitness assignments - including exercise bike work - Kim was determined to not let Tony and the team down; so much so that she wanted to expand on her exercise achievements.
Joining our specialist weekly Smovey strength sessions - which focus on muscle activation, strengthening and stimulation through Smovey rubber exercise rings tailored for those living with Parkinson’s - in March this year, Kim quickly felt huge benefits of what quickly became a wider part of the ‘Ability Bow community’.
Led by vastly experienced volunteer instructor Sonia Wisinger in both indoor settings at St Stephen’s Health Centre and outdoor at St Stephen’s Green, Bow, Kim says the Smovey sessions have been ‘super’ for her feeling included and fitter and stronger, for longer.
“When I first joined the Smovey sessions, I very quickly realised Sonia and the group are part of such a warm and sincere wider Ability Bow community which extends beyond the gym,” says Kim.
“You feel part of a club when exercising in both the gym and during Smovey sessions and with the latter, it feels like a real Parkinson’s family, where you can genuinely chat about things so authentically without judgement, stigma and not feeling patronised and demeaned.
“We’re even able to text each other and send messages of support outside the group and just asking how you are, what you’re doing and being part of a wider friendship group is such a mood lifter and means so much; as we’re not trying to prove anything to anyone and we all know our capabilities.”
Why Kim Recommends Our Gym?
But if Kim could sum up the best bits about attending Ability Bow, what would she say?
“I’d say to anyone who starts here, it’s somewhere to learn and grow in every way possible because you can do things differently to a normal corporate gym setting.
“Attending a corporate gym can be off-putting as there’s a focus on lycra, the perfect body image and an emphasis of isolation with someone living with a disability as a lot of gym-goers may be wearing headphones and not speaking to someone they don’t already understand or know.
“What’s brilliant about Ability Bow, is you can live in the moment and around people who build you up - including the gym members, staff and volunteers - you can all exercise together, develop communication skills, tolerance to your condition and not face awkwardness or tension when using equipment, as there’s a lot of freedom to use say a treadmill for however long you need.
“For anyone choosing to attend, there’s no competition and that’s also a fantastic to be part of and you can set realistic goals for you.”
For Kim, Ability Bow really has changed her life. The live music fan and family enthusiast - who recently visited New York to see soft rock legend Jackson Browne - says visiting our service (which has supported more than 4,000 disabled people into exercise since its formation) has enabled her to do everything from aid her mobility, to just merely being able to show up at both work - Kim is currently employed as an administrator at St Katherine’s Dock Practice - and at our gym.
Kim says: “Ability Bow has made me feel able to take my disability away - even in the workplace - and gives me inspiration to do my job without feeling deflated and unable to show up for the day which is also a fantastic bonus and what you can easily take for granted in many ways, so being here really has the benefits all round for both my work and also my personal life and health condition too; Ability Bow has saved my life.”
Find Out More
To find out more about our range of specialist exercise programmes - and to refer to one of our many activities: