Attitude Exercise

What to do When the Path Ahead is Uncertain?

When a chronic condition doesn’t respond to traditional medical therapies (pharmaceuticals, surgical procedures, etc.), there remain at least four alternatives.

  • Lifestyle changes that often provide cures or delay progression
  •  Mindfulness training that can make living with the condition bearable
  • Naturopathic treatments (water therapy, fasting, manipulations)
  • Doing nothing and hoping for the best.

Oddly, despite evidence that alternatives like lifestyle change can be an important component of treatment, these alternatives are often ignored.

While lifestyle change may need to address exercise, diet, stress, sleep, environment, and social connections, it’s the physical/exercise part that’s frequently missed.

Exercise and movement as a component of lifestyle change certainly isn’t a new idea.  Anyone would tell you that exercise is good and everyone should do it. Still, few move enough.  Would it make a difference if you knew that without regular exercise you are likely to lose two decades of quality life.  Sadly, that’s the prognoses for many in America as they approach what could be the best years of life.

Not wanting to be among the quality of life casualties, I keep up regular exercise.  Taking my dog for a three-mile walk weekdays and a five-mile walk on the weekends has been my usual routine.  Of course, that’s not all that I need.  Stretching and resistance exercises are also important.  But what else is needed?  What might I be missing?

No doubt, you have heard the expression “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”  A similar quote is attributed to Sir William Osler, “A physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.”  Pondering that thought gave me the idea to inquire at the new gym next door about the availability of a personal trainer.  That is how I discovered Thomas Amsden, a very knowledgeable trainer, and began my personal training adventure.

What follows is an anecdote and thoughts from Thomas about his methodology as a personal trainer.  Granted, much of what happens when lifestyle change is used as part of recovery is difficult to explain.  Changing exercise and diet alone can affect the expression of hundreds of genes.  These in turn, may have effects on every organ system.  Why body movements have such an effect is simply amazing.  Of course, the outcomes vary from person to person.

You may discover as I did that just because a personal trainer is often seen in a gym, it doesn’t mean that personal training is only about exercise.

In the article that follows, Thomas offers his thoughts about how a personal trainer can be part of gaining a better quality of life.

            Nancy Neighbors, MD

“What’s Next?”

            “Here, take these pills, I’ll write you a prescription, see if it helps, schedule an appointment with my receptionist, and come back in six months and see how you’re doing.”  Those were the only words BJ recalls hearing.  Sticking out his hand, like he probably had so many times before, he gave a firm and confident handshake, but in reality was falling apart inside after hearing an almost sure death sentence. And why wouldn’t it be, with so little that can be done at this point for men with Parkinson’s? Or at least that’s what BJ thought up until this point. As he left his neurologist’s office, almost in a daze, looking at his wife in complete and utter disbelief, he knew his future was uncertain. One bit of news turned out to be a blessing, “he did say to see about getting a personal trainer, didn’t he? He said it would probably help me, isn’t that what he said?” His wife, heartbreaking inside, didn’t know the right words to say, “Yes, he did say that.  Is there one at the club you go to?”  “Sure, there’s this one guy I’ve seen. I’ll ask him tomorrow.”  Unknown to BJ, his life was about to change.

So here’s how it started in November 2015. I was training a friend, Nick, and noticed a new guy in the gym.  He was a friendly guy, with a pleasant smile and a nice hello.  He said, “My name is BJ, and my doctor told me it would be a good idea to get a trainer. I’ve recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and my doctor said strength training under professional guidance possibly could help.”  I agreed, “Sure, I believe I can help you…but, only under one condition. You’ll have to do everything I tell you, and it will have to be my way, or the highway. I explained to BJ that Parkinson’s can usually be helped and that sometimes it may even be misdiagnosed, leaving opportunities for the body to heal itself.  He looked at me with disbelief as most people do when I tell them there is a possibility they may have been misdiagnosed. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it time and time again when people have already made their situation part of, if not all of their identity.

What followed was standard detective work. We followed the basic principles for how the body works and how everything is connected.  Unfortunately, everyone is different.  In BJ’s case, we basically threw things at the proverbial wall to see what would stick.  My, time does fly, it’s been over 5 years since the first time we met, and most of BJ’s symptoms have disappeared.

If wondering what fixed BJ, what made the difference was a process I use with most degenerative health conditions. First, I gathered subjective and objective data about where BJ was at when I met him.  Next, I compare it to what would be considered a happy, healthy and well-balanced person.  Then I focus on what needed to change.

There is a saying, “If you lost something and can’t find it, then take another look at the places you forgot to look.”  In a sense that’s what I did for BJ.  He had lost his health and in his search for recovery, had found a questionable diagnosis, pills of little value, and a prognosis that was unsettling. What saved BJ was taking a look where he had not looked before.

In general, there are six paths I follow when dealing with degenerative conditions.

  • Path 1: Who Are You? My first initiative or path is an in depth screening process of an individual’s personality and mindset – .how they communicate, feel, value, and appreciate.
  • Path 2: Assess and improve my client’s ability to manage, decrease, and deal with stress, improve their quality of rest and recovery, sleep, and optimal breathing.
  • Path 3: Review the types and quality of food, water, and other nutrients consumed with a goal of optimal digestive system function.
  • Path 4: Evaluate the ability to move by evaluating present ability to not only exercise but move safely and efficiently.
  • Path 5: Consider other aspects that include the body, mind, heart and spirit.
  • Path 6: Support groups and fellowship. Follow up and support are an important part of positive life change.  Without it, the good that I bring to a person’s life may be undone in a relatively short time.

After entering the field of health and well-being, I came to appreciate that by following basic principles of human physiology that a person can, with guidance, faith, and patience, take personal responsibility for their health and well-being.  In doing so, they can often improve their quality of life in ways they couldn’t have imagined.

My approach is simple, systematic, and individualized.  When my recommendations are followed, results naturally follow.  I find that if just four basic foundational principles are adhered to at least 80% of the time, our physical, emotional, mental, spiritual health and well-being naturally improves. Unfortunately, far too many follow strategies that fail to recognize the need for balance in all aspects of life.

Thomas J. Amsden

About Thomas Amsden

            Thomas Amsden is a personal trainer in Huntsville, Alabama. In the bio to his book “Riding with the King: Living Life Without a Bucket List,” Thomas provides a view of his journey by describing it as riding with the “King.”  As Thomas say in his bio, “It’s my purpose and intention through writing and telling my story, to get this point across: that life is an amazing wonderful thing, something I took for granted for far too long, a gift that no amount of words can express the value I have for it.  The more fully we live our lives as ourselves, authentically, the more impact we will have in this life…”

            For information about personal training services offered by Thomas Amsden, you can contact him by email at, or by phone at (256)-270-6170.  For more about Thomas Amsden, visit the author’s page.

The Story of Saray Stancic, MD

In 1995, Dr. Saray Stancic, a third-year medical resident, was abruptly stricken with a severe and disabling case of multiple sclerosis. After 8 years of impaired and disrupted work and daily life, complicated by side effects of intensive pharmaceutical therapies, she stumbled upon a medical journal study reporting some beneficial reduction in MS symptom severity associated with one particular food: blueberries. This triggered an exhaustive exploration of the medical literature, revealing plentiful evidence in respectable peer-reviewed journals that dietary choices do play a key role in the development of chronic illness—a topic that had eluded the medical school curriculum she knew so well.

Dr. Stancic concluded that the power of prevention and healing offered by a whole-food, plant-based diet for many chronic conditions is enormous and unquestionable. Inspired, she saw it as imperative to adopt this lifestyle personally, and she discontinued all medications and focused upon optimizing diet.

Remarkably, after years of difficulty walking, she found her neurological deficits gradually improving, and felt renewed and infused with a great sense of hope. She decided to take up jogging, which evolved to running, and in the spring of 2010 ran a marathon.

As a physician observing unnecessary suffering and loss, Dr. Stancic felt compelled to spread the word of this seemingly untapped therapeutic resource to other physicians and patients.

Most physicians today are relegated to symptom management via treatment plans highly dependent on prescription medications and invasive procedures, with little time devoted to uncovering and addressing the underlying causes of disease, and little time available for counseling, support and education, interventions that have been proven to circumvent the need for drugs and surgery. Therefore Dr. Stancic concluded that she would establish her own small medical practice as a model for lifestyle based personal wellness promotion, where the primary intervention is educating patients on the importance of food choices and how these simple decisions affect complicated health outcomes.

For more about Dr. Saray Stancic and her documentary, “Code Blue,”  view the video “Dr Saray Stancic Reversing Multiple Sclerosis and Running a Marathon.”


Dr. Neighbors has no financial ties with any gyms or personal trainers, including Thomas Amsden.  And, no interest in blueberries beyond the fresh ones at the grocery store.

By Nancy Neighbors, MD

... Dr. Neighbors provides a blend of traditional family medicine and evidence-based lifestyle medicine in Huntsville, Alabama. When indicated, lifestyle change is recommended as the first line of therapy.

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