The First Step Is Always the Hardest

"The first step is always the hardest" is a saying most of us have had echoing around in our brains our whole lives. Variations on this theme go way back in time. Did you ever hear the saying "Well begun is half done" by Aristotle?

The theme has been applied to learning, exercise, dieting, apologizing, adapting to change, and on and on.

The "first step" feeling

In Parkinson’s disease (PD), exercise is often the first step of countering the progression of the disease. Many of us have felt reluctant to join exercise classes and typical excuses run from, "I won’t look good" to "I can’t do this."

Most of us still take that "first step" and go to an exercise class. In fact, we encounter that "first step" feeling on almost a daily basis. A lot of our time is wasted coming up with excuses as to why not to take that first step.

As my Parkinson’s has progressed, I’ve run into one of the strangest manifestations of the "first step" I’ve encountered in my long life.

Walking challenges

Walking has almost always been an autonomous activity. One stands and steps out. No thought required. With the onset of Parkinson’s, walking has become more complex and difficult. Now, I find the first step of walking is literally the hardest part of walking.

Yes, my standing is often of the comic variety and my walking is slow and distinctive, but, with caution and a little more concentration, I just do it. That first step, however, is now requiring a lot of effort and conscious thought.

I stand up and literally can’t take that first step. I don’t know which foot to start with. Is this a form of freezing? Is this some weird balance issue? My mind seems to go blank. A panic attack? I’m standing but what am I going to do and how am I going to do it? 

A common problem

I have to consciously tell my muscles to contract and lift a foot. I may get distracted by thinking I’ve lifted the wrong foot and still don’t move forward. I’m at risk of falling.

After what seems like minutes but is only a second or 3, I finally decide which foot to step forward with and I’m off and running. Well, not literally running.

I’m not the first person with Parkinson’s to have this problem. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation:

"Changes in the brain that take place with PD affect a person’s balance. This, combined with difficulty walking because of stiffness, freezing or shortened steps, puts people with PD at risk of falling. No medications are effective for these issues. Only exercise has been proven to help."

What am I doing about it?

I’m not usually the person most likely to exercise alone. I need help getting started and continuing to exercise. Again, that "first step" problem!

A schedule helps so I’m working with a physical therapist twice a week on not only walking more naturally (longer steps, heel toe walking, standing up and moving), but also balance and strength training.

I do "stand up and go" exercises. I’m also riding a recumbent bike every day and working out with a personal trainer once a week. Progress is slow and incremental in nature. It’s extremely disappointing, but, once again, there is no pill for this.

Get support

Sometimes it seems the solution to everything Parkinson’s is exercise. People often ask "what is the best exercise." I think the only answer is exercises that YOU will do.

If you are having trouble with any part of walking, go ahead, get help, and take that "first step!"

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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