Parkinson’s patients share benefits of Aerobic Center class
Instructor Linda Morrison takes her place in front of the Foundations exercise class at the Aerobic Center at Lynch Field in Greensburg and says, “What’s the rule?”
“If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it,” the class responds.
That’s the first tenet of the chair aerobics-style class for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and other mobility issues — but it doesn’t indicate a defeatist attitude, just a realistic one.
Class members run the gamut from those recently diagnosed to those in advanced stages of the disease, from those whose physical abilities are hardly diminished to those with significant limitations. So, they do what they can.
Though most members are Parkinson’s patients, others have heart issues or multiple sclerosis, or are recovering from strokes. Still others are maintaining their own fitness as they accompany their spouses, says Rachel Carloni, another instructor and also aquatics director for the center.
Exercise is key
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, exercise is key for those with a PD diagnosis in maintaining balance, mobility and activities of daily living. Research included in the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project shows that regular exercise helps slow decline in quality of life.
Exercise should include flexibility and strength components, along with aerobic activity. Biking, running, yoga, Pilates, dance, weight training and even non-contact boxing can have positive effects on symptoms.
More important than the type of exercise, though, is just that physical activity be part of a person’s regular routine. PD patients should check with their doctors prior to beginning any exercise program.
Foundations currently meets at
1:15 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays for 45 minutes. The class is structured upon a similar exercise class designed by the Parkinson’s Foundation, Carloni says, and instructors have received training through the foundation.
“Our instructors are not therapists, they’re exercise specialists with fitness and health-related degrees, and years and years and years of experience,” she says.
The class covers a full slate of issues that arise with a Parkinson’s diagnosis, with each instructor tailoring her own sessions.
“They work on fall prevention, range of motion, range of motion control, balance, strength,” Carloni says. “There’s also voice and voice volume control and cognitive skills that go with the physical skills.”
‘Is it warm in here?’
Morrison started her Sept. 13 session with gentle, fluid arm movements for the dozen or so participants, set to melodic oldies like “Going to the Chapel” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”
The workout gradually gained intensity as Morrison called out encouragement, sang along to the music and gave helpful descriptions of the movements, like “take off the shirt,” “rock the baby” and “protect the football.”
The class then picked up small weights for some arm curls, before moving on to leg movements and resistance bands.
“Paddle down the river, circle the earth,” Morrison called out, as “Runaround Sue” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” boomed from the speakers.
“Is it getting warm in here?” she asked, as her students laughed and nodded.
Next, students picked up small, colorful rubber balls to toss in the air to early Beatles songs, as Morrison encouraged them to clap “one, two, three” between catches.
Finally, it was time for some cool-down stretches accompanied by the bluesy “Georgia on My Mind.”
Afterward, class participant Curt Hahn, 72, of Hempfield said, “My doctor told me that vigorous exercise is the biggest combatant to Parkinson’s symptoms.”
Hahn, who was diagnosed about a year ago, says he doesn’t yet need medications for his PD symptoms, though he takes medication for atrial fibrillation that “slows me down.”
He believes regular exercise has helped him maintain his overall physical health: “My doctor told me recently that she figured I’d be worse than I am by now.”
Morrison says benefits of the class go beyond just the physical.
“(PD) is not always a happy story as it progresses, but we do see improvements,” she says. “They exercise to the best of their ability and it makes everyday activity easier. But we also see them having fun and getting out of their shell.”
She remembers one class member who started out sitting by himself in a corner, separated from the rest of the group.
“Now he’s with everyone else,” she said. “This class helps people feel more comfortable and confident. It helps them keep their people connections.”
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Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter