The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 6, 2013

Model patient: Parkinson’s diagnosis sent Jim Fallenstein to the gym

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

— When Jim Fallenstein comes for his workout in the morning with personal trainer Jo Ann Radlinger, they get right to work.

Pull-ups, abdominal crunches, planks, lat pull-downs, BOSU stability ball, triceps pull-downs, hack squats, shoulder presses.

“We get a lot done,” Radlinger said. “We don’t waste any time.”

Impressive, eh?

Now consider this: Fallenstein isn’t your ordinary gym rat. He’s 76 years old and suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

When he was diagnosed seven years ago, his doctor told him he should remain active and maybe even start visiting a gym to do weight training.

At first, he struggled to figure out how to get that done. Said his wife, Jenice, “I felt like he was doing stuff without really knowing what he was doing.”

Three years ago, he decided he needed a little extra help to get the exercise his doctor says he needs. And that has made all the difference. Fallenstein is getting stronger, and the telltale tremors in his arms and legs are getting less severe.

Fallenstein had been training at the Anytime Fitness location near downtown Mankato. That’s where Radlinger operates her personal training business. The two formulated a workout plan specific to Fallenstein’s needs.

Radlinger has him on a full workout designed to improve his balance and strengthen his core. For his balance, Radlinger has Fallenstein working with a BOSU ball, which resembles an inflated rubber hemisphere. Standing on the ball forces users to use their brains and muscles in concert to maintain balance.

Core exercises such as abdominal crunches also help with balance. A well-conditioned core can greatly improve balance, and balance is one of the things Parkinson’s sufferers struggle with most.

“I noticed more tremors before than I do now,” Radlinger said. “And I think that might be from the strengthened muscles.”

Fallenstein meets with Radlinger once a week and works out on his own several more times. He’s gone from being able to hold a plank for about 10 seconds to now more than a minute. When Radlinger has him on the assisted pull-up machine — which mimics a traditional pull-up but assists the user — Fallenstein has been able to decrease the amount of assistance by 50 pounds.

He’s making progress, which in this case is measured by a slowing of the progression of Parkinson’s.

“I can control the tremors better,” he said.

Fallenstein said he served in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. He was told by doctors at the Veterans Affairs hospital that his Parkinson’s could have been triggered by the military’s use of Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used in the jungles of Vietnam.

Regardless of how it came to his life, Fallenstein is a model patient. He’s taking medication and, as per his doctor’s orders, he’s maximizing his time in the gym.

“He’s done so many great, proactive things to deal with this,” Radlinger said. “He inspires me every day. He had every reason not to do it.”