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A Simple Treatment for Parkinson's Disease: Exercise

02/18/2015

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  • From VOA Learning English, this is the Health and Lifestyle Report.
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  • More than six million people around the world suffer from Parkinson's disease.
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  • Parkinson's disease makes patients shake and their muscles difficult to move.
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  • The disease is incurable and only gets worse over time.
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  • Parkinson's usually affects older people.
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  • Current treatments for Parkinson's are medicine and surgery.
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  • But lately many doctors and patients have become interested in a treatment that is simple,
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  • does not cost much and seems to be very effective.
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  • That treatment is exercise.
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  • "Pick it back up. Put it down. Right leg. Straight arm. Way back. one ... two ... three ..."
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  • What you hear are 20 senior citizens exercising.
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  • They stretch their arms forward and then swing them far back.
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  • The instructor watching them closely is a 75-year-old man named Gary Sobel.
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  • "Here we go! Catch! Hurl!..."
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  • Mr. Sobel shows the class how to catch and throw -- or, as he says, hurl -- an imaginary ball.
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  • Everyone follows his instructions.
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  • But many of the students cannot stop their hands and feet from shaking. And some cannot straighten their bodies.
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  • Everyone in the class has Parkinson's disease -- everyone -- even the instructor.
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  • Parkinson's disease is an incurable brain, or neurologic, condition that can make walking and keeping your balance difficult.
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  • So, many patients avoid exercise.
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  • But these students exercise several times a week.
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  • They say the exercise helps the symptoms of Parkinson's.
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  • But they also come for another reason -- the friendship.
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  • The exercise classes have been important for the instructor, too.
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  • When he was younger, Mr. Sobel was an athlete.
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  • In his early 60s, he was still running in long races.
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  • But in 2008, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
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  • The condition became severe.
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  • He could not get out of bed without help.
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  • He could not walk easily.
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  • He could not drive a car.
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  • "Walking was a problem because I would trip and fall.
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  • Getting in and out of a car - I couldn't drive anymore because my reflexes were too slow.
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  • I didn't trust myself if I had to make a sudden stop, you're just too slow with your movements."
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  • Doctors told Mr. Sobel the best way to avoid accidents and injury was to avoid exercise.
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  • "In 2008 when you were diagnosed, you were told not to crack a sweat, take it easy. I'm serious."
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  • So Mr. Sobel stopped exercising.
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  • He also avoided medications because he was scared of the side effects, the bad things they might cause.
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  • Then one day, his hands were shaking so much, he could not sign his name to pay a bill.
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  • "I hit bottom that day, and I said, this is absolutely ridiculous, that I can't even write a check."
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  • After this happened Mr. Sobel started to take low doses of Parkinson's medicine to reduce the shaking.
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  • Once the shaking lessened he started squeezing water from wet towels to strengthen his hands.
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  • That simple exercise worked.
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  • "It took about six weeks and I could write a check better than I ever did."
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  • Mr. Sobel decided to build on his success.
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  • He moved on to exercises to strengthen his legs.
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  • Then he decided he wanted to help others. So, he trained to be an instructor.
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  • Mr. Sobel has been teaching exercise classes for three years.
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  • In that time, he has helped thousands of people with Parkinson's.
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  • In this class, he is teaching students how to walk fast, how to stop fast and even how to walk backwards.
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  • "..in the count of three. One, two, three ... Stop!"
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  • He says he pushes all his students to do more than they think they can.
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  • The medical community noticed the success stories of Mr. Sobel and other Parkinson's patients who exercised.
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  • Doctor Heather Ene is a doctor at the University of Colorado.
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  • She specializes in movement disorders.
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  • She explains that many people have made a philosophical shift,or a change of thinking, about exercise and Parkinson's disease.
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  • "There's been a complete shift towards exercise as a mainstay in Parkinson's disease."
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  • Ms. Ene says new research about Parkinson's is making doctors change their advice to patients.
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  • Now, doctors are telling people with Parkinson's to exercise longer, more often and at higher intensity.
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  • She says exercise may help people remain more active for longer.
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  • "It's not necessarily going to slow the disease progression such that people don't need medications.
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  • In fact, it's very unlikely that it's going to create that much difference.
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  • But it can be very helpful in slowing the transition to disability.
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  • That's part of what we're trying to do."
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  • And, Dr. Ene says Mr. Sobel's exercise classes help the students with more than their physical health.
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  • She says the classes help students emotionally.
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  • They give the people a community.
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  • Students exercise among others with Parkinson's and learn from a man with Parkinson's.
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  • Back in the class, Mr. Sobel says the classes have also helped him fight this degenerative disease, a disease that gets worse over time.
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  • "This is a degenerative disease that can get nasty.
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  • But I'm winning the battle right now, and I don't know how long I can continue to win the battle, but I'll do what I can."
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  • As part of doing what he can, Mr. Sobel has trained over 100 instructors throughout the United States.
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  • These instructors use his methods of leading Parkinson's exercise classes.
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  • He has also helped start other classes for people with Parkinson's.
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  • These classes include yoga, Tai Chi and dancing.
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  • For the Health and Lifestyle Report, I'm Anna Matteo.
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  • Words in This Story
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  • patients - n. people who receive medical care or treatment
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  • stretch - v. to move your muscles in a way that makes them long and tight
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  • swing - v. to move with a smooth, curving motion
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  • reflexes - n. actions or movements of the body that happen automatically as a reaction to something
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  • hit bottom- v. expression reach the lowest possible level or point
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  • degenerative - adj. medical causing the body or part of the body to become weaker or less able to function as time passes
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