Movement is therapy in dealing with disease

Photos courtesy of Minot Daily News

This story was originally published by the Minot Daily News and is printed with permission. To view the original, please see the Daily News WEBSITE.

By Jill Schramm, Minot Daily News


Lorraine Miller of Minot gets surprised looks when she tells people she goes to boxing exercise classes.

Miller was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2009 but only started the Parkinson’s exercise class with its boxing component a couple of months ago. She wishes she would have started sooner.

“When you get your heart rate up when you are exercising, it makes a big difference, plus doing the stretching exercises,” she said. “When you leave here, you feel really good. It makes a big difference in how you feel.”

Exercise classes for area residents with Parkinson’s is just one of the activities at Trinity Exercise Physiology, located in Trinity Health West.

Exercise Physiology had been sharing space with Cardiac Rehabilitation until the cardiac program moved to the new hospital that opened last May.

Having the full space for exercise physiology offers a larger area for the different programs, especially the Parkinson’s classes.

“We get a higher number of participants for those classes and to have as much space as possible is fantastic. It can get them moving around and doing all sorts of different exercises and walking,” said exercise physiologist and wellness coach Austin Halladay, an Estevan, Saskatchewan, native who runs the exercise programs. Halladay graduated from Minot State University with a degree in corporate fitness and worked as a personal trainer for about five years before returning to Minot State to obtain a degree in exercise science and rehabilitation in December 2022.

He leads Parkinson’s class participants through two daily classes, each offered twice a week.

“We base most of our programming around boxing. Eye-hand coordination for Parkinson’s is a big component in what helps them slow down their tremors,” he said. “But we also do some strength building. We do some core work. We work on flexibility, gait training, balance.”

The program makes a difference, and that difference can vary from person to person.

“Some of them come in with very, very heavy tremors, and their shakes are relatively significant. By the time that they’re done with the hour, you can just physically see those tremors have dissipated a little bit. They’ve slowed down. But the biggest change has been the balance,” Halladay said. “Most of the individuals that start off are a fairly big fall risk, and after a couple of weeks, it’s a complete 180 (degree) change. They’re walking more confidently. They’re taking longer strides. They’re doing all the things just to be safer in their day-to-day lifestyle.”

“My balance is better. My speech is better. My gait and walk is better,” said Tom Kempf of Sawyer, who has had Parkinson’s for about 10 years but has been participating in the class for only a couple of months. “The going joke was I did not fall down (during) deer season this year. I walked a lot of area, got my feet tangled up in a lot of tree limbs, but I never did fall.”

Peter Wahlstrom of Minot, who has lived with Parkinson’s for about five years, started coming to the classes a year ago.

“It has been excellent for me,” said Wahlstrom, who credits the exercise and a Delay the Disease class for keeping him out of the nursing home. “They work us, not overly work us but they work us. You know you have a workout. And when we walk out of here, we can walk out better than when we came in.

“It’s not a cure-all,” he added. “I know that, and I’ll probably never be perfect or normal, but I’ll be functionable. And I think that’s our goal.”

The premise of the program is to slow the progression of the disease and build strength and coordination, Halladay said.

“We’re never going to be able to stop it just with exercise. But to slow it down, that’s our main focus. And we see that pretty much every week with our individuals,” he said.

Halladay said the program is adaptable for any stage of Parkinson’s. Even if mobility is limited, participants can sit in a chair and throw boxing punches at a bag.

Exercise rehabilitation for cancer patients in treatment or post-treatment is another major program offered through Exercise Physiology.

“There’s lots of research and studies behind getting ahead of the fatigue factor that comes along with chemo and radiation. And actually we’ve seen some very, very big improvements with that as well, particularly in the patients that are going through treatments. They find that once they’re all said and done, they’re close, if not back, to where they were when they started their treatments,” Halladay said.

Slowly and safely is how exercise can be incorporated when already fatigued from treatment, he said.

“We just take our time with it and slowly build it up. It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he said.

Participants engage in cardio, strength training, core exercises, balance exercises, weight lifting and working with exercise bands. They work on walking, going over hurdles and utilizing steps.

“It’s more so based on what the individual’s goals are. If they were somebody that really enjoyed walking before they started all of their treatments, and they want to be able to get back to that, we’re going to put a heavier focus on their gait training and getting them back to being able to walk efficiently. If there’s somebody that just feels really weak, then we’re going to put more of an emphasis on the strength training,” Halladay said.

The cancer rehabilitation exercise involves one-on-one training that can occur one to three times a week. Participants who come on a less frequent schedule typically receive exercises they can do at home between sessions.

The advantage of one-on-one sessions is the attention each person gets, but Halladay said he puts in a lot of steps running back and forth to ensure Parkinson’s class participants get needed attention, too. He is aided in the classes by Julie Wondrasek, who works part-time at Trinity Exercise Physiology.

Parkinson’s classes also offer the advantage of social connection.

“This is their social outing. They get to come in and visit with people that are going through a lot of the same things that they are. They can kind of relate to one another and have a little fun while they’re exercising,” Halladay said.

“It is awesome to come to,” Wahlstrom said. The light atmosphere created by the instructors, everyone’s positive attitude and the sense that participants are all working together makes the class fun, he said.

The Parkinson’s program is ongoing for participants, who may attend as long as they wish at no cost due to support from the Trinity Health Foundation.

Cancer patients see their program end after 20 sessions.

“What I try to do as best I can is educate and encourage and try to motivate those individuals throughout those sessions, so that when we’re done, when our 20 sessions are up, they can continue, because it’s going to be a lifelong battle. Exercise isn’t something that you can do for a month, and then quit and stay where you’re at after that month. It’s an ongoing process,” Halladay said. “I spend the last four or five sessions giving them as many tools as I can to be able to continue on their own.”

Some cancer patients may receive services beyond 20 weeks with a doctor’s exercise prescription. The exercise prescription program also brings in patients with other health diagnoses, primarily COPD, asthma, diabetes, or weight concerns.

Participants largely are referred by their medical providers, although that is not required for the Parkinson’s classes.

About Minot State University
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Published: 12/21/23   

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