Exercise classes can do wonders for people with Parkinson's — and that's no stretch

The Parkinson's Society of Newfoundland and Labrador has expanded its exercise programs across the island, including classes in Bay Roberts, Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor.

Provincewide program helps people with degenerative disease improve physical and mental health

Instructor Sylvia King helps Bertha Keating and Mike Coffey with their flexibility during an exercise class hosted by the Parkinson's Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

When Bertha Keating was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease three and a half years ago, she didn't want to tell anyone. 

These days, she's happy to get out of the house to stretch and move with others who understand her struggles. 

"(It's great) to be in the company of with someone else that's experiencing what you're experiencing, because you try to hide it. You still try to put on your best front when you're in front of people."

Keating attends a weekly exercise class in Gander. Hosted by the Parkinson's Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, the class aims to build a workout to improve physical strength and confidence. 

Derek Staubitzer, executive director of the Parkinson's Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, says study after study proves moving can do wonders for those with the disease. 

All the recent research demonstrates that the more intense you can exercise, the better your long-term outcome with Parkinson's will be.- Derek Staubitzer

"It seems to be able to reduce the amount of muscle rigidity, increases your flexibility, increases your strength, and your balance," he said.

"All the recent research demonstrates that the more intense you can exercise, the better your long-term outcome with Parkinson's will be."

Staubitzer says it's not easy to get people with Parkinson's to push themselves to move. 

"Unfortunately, one of the symptoms of Parkinson's is apathy. People really don't want to participate in any activities at all. They don't care they're not participating in activities. And they don't care that they don't care."

A new exercise class for people with Parkinson's disease is helping them stay healthy and create social networks. From left, Mike Keating, Bertha Keating, Sylvia King and Mike Coffey. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

But by expanding programs across the island, he hopes to build a better social network for those with the disease, which can be isolating for many.

"Some people are embarrassed by the tremor, so they don't go out in the public," he said.

"Some people find it very difficult to get out, so they stay at home. They're worried about falling. And sometimes some of their friends and family may not know how to react around them when they're dealing with Parkinson's symptoms."

Programs are now available in St. John's, Bay Roberts, Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor, and will soon be Clarenville. The organization is hoping to expand elsewhere, particularly in the Corner Brook area. 

Hoping to expand

For people like Mike Coffey, who's been living with Parkinson's for over 17 years, the exercise class helps give him a voice — literally. 

"If I get up in the morning, and if I'm home by myself and just sitting around, I'll be 10, 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock before I can get my voice to figure out what level it should be at, because I'm not talking to nobody. When I come out here now in programs like this, I get talking more and I learn a new voice, basically."

He hopes to never stop. 

"My motto is 'running water don't freeze,'" he said. "So the more I'm on the go, it helps me from freezing up."

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With files from Newfoundland Morning