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By Howard Cohen, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — Claire Hackett, a retired dietician, never saw herself as a “jock.”

But at 77, the Palmetto Bay, Fla., mother of seven is enrolled in a twice-weekly indoor cycling class at the UHealth Fitness and Wellness Center west of downtown Miami. She walks the treadmill and takes yoga classes at the Y and takes chair yoga and music therapy classes at her local park.

She’s got a new bag, too. A punching bag. “I’ve also taken up boxing,” Hackett said.

The origin of all this activity can be traced back seven years, when Hackett was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that affects about 1.5 million Americans, according to the National Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Parkinson’s, for which there currently is no cure, is characterized by the loss of dopamine neurons in the brain stem.

As Parkinson’s progresses, motor and non-motor skills may decline, leading to rigidity and gait disorders, tremor and cognitive loss. High-profile patients like former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno, singer Linda Ronstadt, actor Michael J. Fox, boxing champ Muhammad Ali and former Major League catcher Ben Petrick, who was diagnosed at 22, have put a face to the disease and promoted awareness.

Experts suggest Hackett is on to something with her burst of activity. Some recent studies, including by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, published in 2008, found that patients with Parkinson’s showed a 35-percent decrease in symptoms after participating in a cycling program. A study in 2012, by researchers at Kent State University’s department of exercise science, also found that exercise and movement therapies benefited patients with Parkinson’s, but there remains little consensus on the optimal mode or intensity of exercise.

“All of this information that is coming in dovetails with what we, the establishment, are promoting with physical therapy or exercise as part of our daily recommendations to our patients,” said Dr. Carlos Singer, director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.

“Exercise is the hot topic in neurology and the neurology of Parkinson’s disease,” Singer said. “There is evidence coming in that it makes a difference in slowing down the progression of Parkinson’s, and it’s good physically and for cognitive ability — the ability to think clearly and for better memory.”

The doctor’s advice? Get moving.

“Exercise seems to release one of our natural proteins, which is called the growth factor, and the growth factor has an influence on making our brain neurons — the nerve cells — more fortified, with more vigorous connections. That’s one of the theories on why exercise may be working,” Singer said.

Given the medical community’s enthusiasm over the results so far, the National Parkinson’s Foundation partnered with UHealth Fitness and Wellness Center to create a Cycle for Parkinson’s class at the Miami medical venue. The program is free for patients and (space permitting) for their caregivers, funded by a $22,000 grant. Classes are 60 minutes apiece, twice weekly.

The class is held on stationary bikes. Unlike the Cleveland study, which used tandem bikes in which a patient and a captain are paired on a bike, with the captain generally setting the pace, UHealth’s Cycle for Parkinson’s class offers individual bikes, much like those found in a traditional gym’s class. Patients, guided by trainers, can proceed at their own pace or take a break.

Cycle for Parkinson’s launched with a three-month pilot program in January for about 15 patients and a handful of their caregivers.

The goal, said Brittany Dixson, the Wellness Center’s health fitness specialist: “Improve the quality of life for those with Parkinson’s. We saw improvements. These participants did pre- and post-testing, and they felt better, there were aerobic capacity improvements, some strength improvements. A lot of time with Parkinson’s, they feel alone or isolated, and a group setting gives an aspect of social benefits.”

Hackett, the Palmetto Bay mom, was one of the participants in the 10-week pilot and enrolled in the current program, which began in late June.

“Since I’ve had Parkinson’s, the exercise has helped my symptoms,” Hackett said. “I’m stronger, I have more energy. I’d have difficulties walking with Parkinson’s and fatigue, but the exercise definitely helps that.”

These days her husband, Bob, who does not have Parkinson’s, joins Hackett for classes. Her family is impressed with her exercise routine and the results, she said.

“They think it’s great, they really do. I never thought I’d be doing that. I do enjoy it. I can’t say it’s easy; it’s challenging.”

Photo: Angela Alvarado, a health coach instructor, right, helps Patricia Henning during a cycling class for individuals with Parkinson’s on Thursday, August 13, 2015. Studies say exercise proves beneficial to Parkinson’s patients. (Peter Andrew Bosch/Miami Herald/TNS)

Actor as Donald Trump in Russia Today video ad

Screenshot from RT's 'Trump is here to make RT Great Again'

Russia Today, the network known in this country as RT, has produced a new "deep fake" video that portrays Donald Trump in post-presidential mode as an anchor for the Kremlin outlet. Using snippets of Trump's own voice and an actor in an outlandish blond wig, the ad suggests broadly that the US president is indeed a wholly owned puppet of Vladimir Putin– as he has so often given us reason to suspect.

"They're very nice. I make a lot of money with them," says the actor in Trump's own voice. "They pay me millions and hundreds of millions."

But when American journalists described the video as "disturbing," RT retorted that their aim wasn't to mock Trump, but his critics and every American who objects to the Russian manipulations that helped bring him to power.

As an ad for RT the video is amusing, but the network's description of it is just another lie. Putin's propagandists are again trolling Trump and America, as they've done many times over the past few years –- and this should be taken as a warning of what they're doing as Election Day approaches.

The Lincoln Project aptly observed that the Russians "said the quiet part out loud" this time, (Which is a bad habit they share with Trump.)