Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pilates Provides Benefits for Some with Parkinson's

By SARAH SKIDMORE, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. - Movements in Pilates exercises are controlled — sometimes
moving the body only inches — but those small motions are making a big
difference to some people with Parkinson's disease.

No research has been done to prove Pilates' effectiveness in reducing
Parkinson's symptoms, but a growing number of patients say they are finding
some relief.

"I love it, it's great," said Karen Smith, 62. "It exercises muscles that
otherwise don't get exercised."

Parkinson's, a degenerative disorder, inhibits a person's ability to control
movement. Its most common symptoms include tremors, slowness of movement,
rigidity and poor balance.

Smith is part of a group that meets twice a week at the Parkinson Center of
the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. The center held a
Pilates pilot program earlier this year, and after it found improvement in
the participants' rigidity and balance it launched a twice-weekly class open
to the public.

The center already has a waiting list for its next round of classes.

A few Pilates instructors elsewhere around the country also are offering
classes specifically for people with the disease.

"It could be any exercise" that might help people, said Kristi Sesso, owner
of the Harmony Group Pilates and Gyrotonics studio in Englewood, N.J. "But
Pilates is a great point of access."

Instructors say the basic principal of Pilates — increasing core strength
and improving flexibility and balance — is extremely helpful in countering
the effects of Parkinson's in some people.

"I never dreamed of trying to do Pilates or anything like that," said Greg
Moore, 59, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's 17 years ago and just started
practicing Pilates. "Now I realized how stiff and boxed up I am."

There are studies that show exercise can ease the severity of Parkinson's
symptoms, said Michael S. Okun, national medical director for the National
Medical Foundation. However, it needs much further research, he said.

"I tell my patients that exercise is like a drug — if they exercise
religiously or stretch religiously, they do great," Okun said.

Pilates participants say the exercises aren't a strain, which makes the
program more approachable for patients who don't exercise at all.
Additionally, they say, it's supportive to be in a positive environment with
other people with Parkinson's.

Many Parkinson's patients struggle with depression and some say the exercise
has helped them.

"A lot of times exercise is as much for the head as it is for the body,"
said John White of Corvallis, Ore. "To feel like you can help yourself in
some way is really important."

White, a former track and wrestling coach, says Parkinson's is a
"seven-day-a-week job." But he says he exercises religiously and it allows
him to continue hiking, golfing and running.

Debi LaVietes Clark, owner of Body Balance Pilates where White practices,
says she is seeing an increasing number of people brought in by participants
who have described how the program helps with flexibility, agility and

"But what I've noticed, first and foremost, is confidence," Clark said.
"Just because you are diagnosed with a disease doesn't mean the end of the


Oregon Parkinson Center:


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