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How exercise can help treat Parkinson's disease

May 16, 2012|By Jenn Bates | KWCH 12 Eyewitness Sports

(WICHITA, Kan.) — Warren Meyer's Parkinson's symptoms came about like most every other patient, slowly inihibiting his control of his muscles.

"First there was a tremor in my left arm, and then in my right. Next there was a tremor in my left leg and my voice started to soften," says Meyer. He finally went to a neurologist who confirmed what Warren had already suspected: He was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease.

Meyer has a lot of company. There are about 60,000 new cases of Parkinson's that are diagnosed each year and it's estimated that there are over one million Parkinson's patients in the United States. Although there are no official numbers, it's also estimated that there are over 1,000 patients in the Wichita area alone.

When Dr. Wendy Williamson found out about this she decided she wanted to find a way to help. Williamson's credentials are extensive. She got her Ph.D from Oklahoma State and is an ACE advanced health and fitness specialist. She's a personal trainer and took a particular interest in the plight of the Parkinsons patient. Williamson paired up with Shana Gatschet, an adaptive living specialiast in the Wichita area, to help put together an exercise program to help their patients.  Shana is a registered occupational therapist and a certified aging-in-place specialist.  She's also the president of Adaptive Living (


Williamson and Gatschet's first six-week session started last November, and Keith Thomas was skeptical. "We had the class suggested to us by some of the health care professionals that we were working with," says Thomas. He adds, "I was actually not supportive of this but my wife out-voted me, so I started taking dad (Thomas' father in law) to the exercise classes." It didn't take long for Thomas to realize, his wife was right.

"It was like me witnessing a minor miracle, I was astounded with the progress he was making," says Thomas.

The moves are simple enough, for someone without Parkinson's. You do things like raise your hand, reach across your body, tap your foot from one side to another or simply just speak to the person next to you. By doing these simple actions, just a few times a day, people's lives have been changed dramatically.

Warren Meyer saw an improvement in just three weeks. Before taking the classes he was about to have to sell his car because he was unable to coordinate his hand and foot movements to drive the manual transmission. 

After his first session of exercise classes with Williamson and Gatschet, Meyer is back to driving his stick shift and doesn't intend to sell his car anytime soon. However, his improvements didn't stop there. "I sleep better at night," says Meyer, "and the fact that I can move around a lot better helps a lot. It's a mental thing.  The fact that I'm able to do things again that I was starting to lose the ability to do or was a struggle to do them."

It's simple tasks like writing checks that Meyer is finally able to complete that have given him his life back. Thomas' story of improvement is a little more dramatic.

"I started taking Dad in, in a transport chair. I had to take him in in a transport chair and out in a transport chair. And we quickly, and I mean very quickly, progressed from a transport chair to where I was taking him in in a transport chair and bringing him out with a walker. Then, it was in with a walker and walking out with a walker. And by the time that we finished up with the classes he was walking on his own, unassisted, on my arm. We were walking in, and we were walking back out," says Thomas.

And these are just two of the myriad of stories involving patients regaining their quality of life by simply exercising. "We have information," says Williamson, "where we've heard people are now able to get back out into society and interact. They're able to participate in functions and not be embarassed and they're able to get in and out of restaurant booths that they haven't been able to get in and out of before. So they can get back to normalcy and get back to being a real citizen in the community."

In fact, Williamson says that if a patient is receiving the proper medication and is also actively exercising every day they can eradicate up to 80% of the symptoms of the debilitating disease.

Thomas and Meyer know first-hand what a different the exercises can make.  Meyer actually stopped the exercise classes for a few weeks because he had contracted the flu and once he stopped his tremors returned.

Meanwhile, Thomas is still amazed at the progress he's seen with his father-in-law. He also encourages others to forget their skepticism and take a chance that this may also work for them. "What have you got to lose, and what have you got to gain?" questions Thomas. "Because you have so much to gain and the Parkinson's patient has so much to gain."

If you would like to learn more about the exercise classes from Dr. Williamson you can contact her on her website,  You can also contact Shana at or through her website,

Exercise and Parkinson's.
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