Exercise class created by Parkinson’s patient may slows the disease’s progression

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (WTNH)– A new exercise class is slowing the progression of a neurological disease, one move at a time. Studies show exercise has a huge impact on balance, flexibility, and mobility for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Physical Education teacher Michelle Hespeler has come up with a fitness program, specifically designed for people with Parkinson’s. The warm-up gets the body moving, but it’s the circuit training, the mix of strength and cardio stations, that has them feeling good and pushing back.

“Through trial and error in these six to seven years, I put together this program that works on specific needs of people with Parkinson’s,” said Hespeler. “Balance, our gait, explosiveness, all those things we need to work on.”

She created the exercise regimen, Beat Parkinson’s Today, after she was diagnosed with the neurological disease.

“The dopamine in our brain, we don’t have as much dopamine anymore,” said Hespeler. “It’s not produced, so that the dopamine connection, the neurological connection, is not there.”

She says exercise is the best medicine.

“There’s actually data and more research, in the past one or two years, that exercise is disease modifying, slows the progression and helps our symptoms,” said Hespeler.

“Michelle used to always tell me, ‘you have to exercise, you have to exercise,’ and I didn’t get it,” said Brenda Vanasse.

But she gets it now. Burpees are no longer a challenge.

“I finally convinced myself it was what I needed to do and it took me awhile to get there, but once I did and once I started to come three times a week, I saw the improvement,” said Vanasse.

“I look for exercise programs that have a proven value to the disease regimen,” said Steve DeWitte, who has lived with Parkinson’s for nine years. “There is no known cause, but exercise seems to be able to slow it, so anything that can slow it while we are waiting for the magic pill is what we should be doing.”

Hespeler feels the difference when she does not exercise. 

“I don’t walk as well; my fine motor control is not as good, so exercise is my medicine,” said Hespeler.

It’s a challenging workout, but can be easily modified.

“Even though it’s hard work, it pays off,” said Hespeler.

There are plans to expand the fitness program so more people with Parkinson’s can benefit. Right now, beginner and intermediate classes are offered in New Britain, Marlborough, and Glastonbury.

For more information, log onto www.beatpdtoday.com.

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