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Louisville YMCA helps people with Parkinson’s disease manage symptoms

Two people stand next to each other and practice hitting a series of numbered, black-and-red boxing pads.
YMCA of Greater Louisville
YMCA of Greater Louisville
Two Louisville YMCAs each offer a program that features group fitness routines for people with Parkinson's disease. Two local participants, pictured here, practice hitting a series of numbered boxing pads.

The workout sessions give people with Parkinson’s disease a chance to exercise and socialize together. The number of participants at the Southwest Family YMCA has slowly grown since the center started offering the program there this year.

The YMCA of Greater Louisville’s “Total Movement with Parkinson’s” initiative is a free, three-month program that features twice-weekly exercise sessions designed to help people as they live with this condition.

“The more that they move, they’re delaying the disease,” said Aprele Gaddie, the Southwest Family YMCA’s membership and healthy living director.

Gaddie said the Southwest YMCA started offering “Total Movement” this spring with three participants, and now five or six people come in each week. They get access not only to the specialized classes but also to the entire facility and other YMCA programs.

The Northeast Family YMCA also runs its own “Total Movement” program.

Here’s how a typical session works: First, people warm up on an exercise bike and do some strength training. Then they do a guided workout using BoxMaster equipment, where participants punch a set of numbered boxing pads.

“They have numbers where they are punching, so they will wear boxing gloves. And we will call out numbers — one, two, three, four,” Gaddie said. “And they’re doing a jab, cross, hook, hook. We’re having them repeat the numbers as they’re punching, so we’re connecting that mind and body.”

Shannon Slucher, who works with the participants at the Southwest YMCA, said a popular part of the program is “cardio drumming.”

“I will pick some songs that are well-known on the radio that they've heard a bunch of times. And then we take a giant ball and we just hit the ball, and we try to stay with the beat,” she said.

People with Parkinson’s can have difficulty with certain motions and talking. Slucher said she sees improvements over the course of a single class, as everyone gradually reaches the same rhythm.

“And that's a really amazing thing to see,” she said. “It seems like the more they're moving, everything just starts to click.”

Kim King, 62, has Parkinson’s and said resources like this one aren’t easy to find. Participating in the “Total Movement” program changed her life.

“The big struggle for us is to make our body and mind go together,” she said, adding that sessions at the Southwest YMCA have improved her ability to do various daily activities. “Exercise is very important. Really it is the most important thing, aside from taking your medication, that you can do.”

King said she loves the drumming exercises so much she bought a drum kit that she uses at home. When she gets into the rhythm and the right song comes on, she said she’s sweating when she’s done — so it’s a good workout.

But the physical exercises aren’t the only benefit of the YMCA’s program. King said it also helped her meet other people with Parkinson’s.

“I’ve made good friends with people in the group,” she said, and they spend time together outside of their fitness classes.

To join the Total Movement program, people must fill out an application and get clearance from their doctor.

The first 12 weeks are free, but that doesn’t mean people have to stop participating after that period is up. If someone wants to continue, Gaddie said the staff can work out a plan for them to get a YMCA membership — the cost of which some health insurance plans may cover.

Anyone interested in the Total Movement program can email YMCA staff at livestrong@ymcalouisville.org or call the Southwest YMCA at 502-933-9622.

News healthCommunity
Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.

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