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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Likness

Lucky Number Seven

It's a strange thing when burpees, alpine lakes and virtual reality conspire to lower an important number in my life. That's exactly what happened a few days ago when, just before kicking off a mini-vacation, my wife and I walked into the front doors of the Parkinson's Care Center. The reason was a routine check-up with my movement disorder specialist. They measured my blood pressure both standing (128/76) and sitting (120/70). My oxygen was at 98% and my heart rate was 56 beats per minute. The doctor asked me a few questions and then performed an assessment.

I wrote about how Parkinson's Disease is diagnosed. I get an exam every visit that isn't about "how many points can you get?" but serves as an objective way to gauge progress over time. I was optimistic my symptoms had improved, but the results he shared were amazing. My updated progress:

That's right! Third visit, down to just seven points. The symptoms that contributed points (on a scale of normal, 0, to moderate, 4) were:

  • 2 points for rigidity in my upper left arm. It is stiff when I walk.

  • 1 point for hand opening and closing (left hand).

  • 2 points for pronation of the left hand.

  • 1 point for tremors in my left arm (much more under control).

  • 1 point for stiffness in my gait.

So, to what do I owe these great improvements? I believe it's a full-fist five-finger Parkinson's punch approach:

☝ First, a nod to my medications and supplements. Ropinirole is doing a great job, but so is the coterie of vitamins and supplements I regularly take.

✌ Second, a nod to plant-based nutrition. I made some very minor tweaks, such as pushing alcoholic drinks, ice cream (vegan, of course) and chips to the weekends. I focus more on getting in whole grains (oats, rice), plant-based proteins (beans, legumes, lentils, chickpeas, meat substitutes), vegetables and fruits during the week.

🤟 Third, my aggressive training program to reach 100 burpees per workout.

🖖 Fourth, supplementing my body weight routine with virtual reality cardio.

👊 Fifth, enjoying intense and rewarding hikes.

I've written plenty about the first and second points, so let's explore the last three a bit more.

Hiking the Pacific Northwest

I was born in South Dakota, raised in Florida, and lived most of my adult life in Georgia. When I joined Microsoft in 2017, the position was entirely remote. During the interview process, I negotiated a request: a relocation package to Washington with the caveat I wouldn't move until 2018. The reason for the delay was because my daughter was starting college and I didn't want to move away her first year. The reason for the request was twofold: I know it would be beneficial to live near Microsoft campus, and that meant living near something else: literally hundreds of beautiful hiking opportunities.

Standing in front of a creek overlooking a mountain ridge
Pausing (or posing?) at 7,000 feet

Hikes provide a little bit of everything. Fresh air. New experience. Challenge. And a lot of calories burned! I was introduced to the beauty of the area in 1998. My company was working with a brand-new technology created by Microsoft and flew me to the campus in Redmond for specialized training. I landed a day early and decided I wanted to hike. I had no knowledge of the area, so the car rental people pointed me to Snoqualmie Pass. It was 12 years before the iPhone was released in a time when few people knew what the Internet was, let alone Google, so instead of pushing start on a wrist-bound GPS or pulling up a trail on a hiking app, I drove to the ranger station and asked them, "What's a good day hike?"

Jeremy and Doreen with Mt. Rainier in the background
One of our first "big hikes" after we moved

I don't know the exact trail I was on and I can't find the physical pictures I took with a disposable camera, but I remember three things: crossing scree fields, seeing enormous trees and ending up at a spot overlooking a beautiful alpine lake. That sparked a dream to one day move here and be able to hike those trails all of the time. I thought it was just a dream at the time and didn't expect it to come true, but here I am. A few years after moving it still feels like a dream!

A great benefit of hiking is who I get to hike with. I haven't hiked alone since we moved, and have had the opportunity to hit the trails with my wife, daughter, son-in-law, and many good friends. Those shared experiences are priceless!

Here are just a few of the hikes I've done recently. At 3,500 calories per a pound of fat, that's over 3 pounds of fun right there! (Oh, but why is it so much easier to put back on?!)

  • Beckler Peak - 8 miles, 2,170 ft elevation, 1,280 calories

  • Ebey's Landing Loop - 5 miles, 650 ft elevation, 870 calories

  • Lake Isabel - 9 miles, 2,480 ft elevation, 2,070 calories

  • Lake Serene - 10.6 miles, 2,635 ft elevation, 1,840 calories

  • Mt. Dickerman - 10 miles, 4,000 ft elevation, 2,250 calories

  • Naches Loop Trail (Mt. Rainier) - 4 miles, 900 ft elevation, 650 calories

  • Pinnacle Lake - Mt. Pilchuck - 9.7 miles, 3,260 ft elevation, 2,220 calories

  • Skyline (Mt. Rainier) - 5.24 miles, 2,156 ft elevation, 800 calories

A beautiful vista of mountains
The summit of Mt. Dickerman

I cannot put a price or value on the benefit of being so close to such beautiful hikes. When anyone asks me if I regret the move, I simply pull out my phone and show them pictures. Although hiking is great, it's not something I can exactly do every day. So, to prepare for those hikes and keep in shape, I created a personal challenge.

The Quest for Burpee

My quest for burpees began after frustration with my existing workouts. I was bouncing between cardio-heavy, jogging-focused workouts to bar-bending bouts of weight lifting, but I wasn't enjoying it and struggled for it to "click." I needed something different. "What if," I thought to myself (because speaking it out loud would be awkward for everyone) "... I could find a workout that..."

  • Works my entire body

  • Builds muscle

  • Increases stamina and endurance

  • Can be done anywhere

  • Makes me feel fit

I only had to think as far as the workout I hate the most: burpees. Around March of this year (2020) I did some research and found a burpee program. It involved increasing burpees every day for 31 days to reach 40 burpees in a single workout. Each session also involved squats, push-ups, and plank holds.

"Surely I'll be fit when I can do 40 burpees in a workout."

31 days later, I nailed the challenge. Things were great. I was feeling more fit, gaining muscle definition, and losing weight. A strange thing happened: after getting into the routine of doing them every day, I realized I actually enjoy and look forward to each workout. I was hooked! It was working. I can do burpees anywhere, so there is no reason to miss a workout. I decided to extend the challenge. If 40 was possible, why not 100?

In designing the new challenge, I knew I had to involve more workouts. It is tough to train your back without a pull-up bar or weights, so I added some variations. Instead of straight push-ups, I'd do a "superman" variety (so-called because between each rep, you stretch your arms and legs to hyperextend and work your lower back), move to a wider grip, and also do a "T-pushup" variety that involves going into a side plank each repetition. The end workout that is approaching in a few weeks will look like this:

  • 100 burpees

  • 50 hip hinges (good mornings without weights and spreading arms to activate lats)

  • 5 1-minute plank holds (30 seconds rest in between, straight arm)

  • 50 lunges per leg, with one hand on hip and the other in the sky to challenge balance

  • 50 superman push-ups

  • 50 squats (sinking deep)

  • 50 T push-ups

  • 50 crunches

It takes me about 9 minutes to do the burpee portion and workouts are approaching about 40 minutes in duration. My heart rate averages 135 beats per minute and tops out at 155 beats per minute. What are the results? Here's what the scale says. The writing is on the wall.

A chart showing weight loss
Six pounds gone for good

I'm steadily dropping weight while gaining strength. Here's a picture for those naysayers who tell me you can't build muscle on a plant-based diet or without lifting heavy weights.

An arm-flexing selfie
Burpee strong

My last hike was easier due to my increased fitness level, and we can't forget that 7. That's not the only moving I do!

Boxing and Swinging

The last element is using modern technology to have fun while burning calories. After my morning workout, I often spend 10 - 30 minutes extra playing a virtual reality (VR) boxing game or Beat Saber. Thanks to a virtual fitness watch, I can see how my workouts stack up. This calendar shows calories burned each day inside of VR (in addition to my regular hikes and workouts).

A calendar showing calories burned
Do calories count if they're virtual?

I do listen to my body and some days, like today, I'll take a break when I know rest will do me better than pushing too hard.

I look forward to completing my current burpee challenge in the next few weeks and posting results. I have no idea what my next challenge will be, but there will be one. It's clear to me that just "showing up" is not an option and I thrive when I have uncomfortable goals set in front of me. I'll take care of what I can: nutrition, workouts, mental health, and faith, but I do hope I can join a trial and contribute to as well as benefit from Parkinson's research. Until next time, I won't stop because Parkinson's doesn't take rest days.

I'm still tracking to my goal to raise $15,000 for Parkinson's research. If you know someone who may be interested in contributing, the link to donate is:

Until next time,

Jeremy Likness

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