The health benefits of exercise are no secret. Getting enough exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, can help prevent cardiovascular disease and improves sleep habits. But many people may not realize that appropriate exercise can help slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, a chronic, progressive neurologic disease that affects movement.
“Research has shown that many different forms of exercise can help people with Parkinson’s disease,” explains Richard Smeyne, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience and the Director of the Jefferson Comprehensive Parkinson’s Center.
“Exercise provides the immediate benefit of improving balance, gait and muscle strength. In the longer term, laboratory and clinical research – including studies done by scientists at Jefferson – has shown that exercise can delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Studies have also shown that exercise can protect the brain from agents that are thought to contribute to its development.”
Elizabeth DiFebo, PT, DPT, a JeffFIT physical therapist, began to see a need for a structured Parkinson’s disease exercise class as she saw her patients at Methodist Hospital. “One week, I happened to have a string of patients with Parkinson’s disease and they were asking me what exercises they could participate in,” she recalled. “I quickly realized we needed to offer this population a structured class, particularly since our hospital is a leader in neuroscience care.”
DiFebo’s interest in Parkinson’s disease was not new. She participated in Parkinson’s disease research while completing her physical therapy training. “As part of a research project, we offered people living with Parkinson’s disease a five day ‘boot camp’ course. At the end of the course, many of the participants experienced a dramatic improvement in symptoms.”
The JeffFIT Parkinson’s Exercise Class consists of a variety of exercises designed specifically for people living with Parkinson’s disease. Most of the exercises are conducted while seated. The hour-long class starts with stretches, then moves into basic exercises that promote strengthening and balance. Eventually, participants begin standing exercises, which are designed to reduce problems surrounding walking. The course is conducted under the constant supervision of licensed physical therapists.
Joan Mettalo, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago, learned about the course from her daughter. She mentioned it to her neurologist, Daniel Kremens, MD, JD, Associate Professor of Neurology, and he recommended that she participate.
Mettalo commutes weekly from her home in South Jersey. While she had performed some at-home exercises, she observes “there is nothing like being in a class. You get a lot of encouragement from a group. I’m more limber since I started. I’d recommend this to anyone.”
The JeffFIT Parkinson’s Exercise Class meets at Methodist Hospital every Friday at 1:00 PM. The fee for the course is $40 for every eight classes. Patients should have their neurologist complete a physician approval form and then call 215-952-9179 to register. Patients looking for a Parkinson’s disease specialist may call 800-JEFF-NOW to book an appointment with a Jefferson movement disorders neurologist.