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‘Get Moving!’ Exercise Can Relieve Symptoms Of Parkinson’s Disease

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)

Heart-Healthy Food In Ten Easy Steps

By Howard Cohen, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — “You can’t fix your health until you fix your diet.”

So says Sheah Rarback, a registered dietitian on the faculty of the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami and a Miami Herald columnist.

The fuel you put into your body, like that in your car, will determine how well you run. The heart is critically essential to the body’s function as it controls the circulation of blood. When you clog its pathways with poor food choices you gum up the works and this can lead to a host of health problems, including death by heart attack.

So what is there to do?

“There is not one single food that will help you lower or raise your cholesterol. Variety is the key. The less processed the food, the better,” said Sonia Angel, registered dietitian and coordinator of the Diabetes and Nutrition Center at Memorial Regional Hospital.

“Choosing foods in their most natural form is one way to avoid eating added sugars hidden in packaged foods and beverages,” said Lucette Talamas, registered dietitian with Baptist Health South Florida. “The American Heart Association recommends daily limits of six teaspoons (24 grams) for women and nine teaspoons (36 grams) for men of added sugar from both food and beverages.”

And don’t forget the healthful benefits of exercise, Talamas said. “A daily serving of moderate intensity physical activity can decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure while also increase HDL (good) cholesterol.”

We asked Angel, Rarback and Talamas for a list of ten heart healthy foods. Here are their suggestions:

1. Salmon. Wild salmon, not farm raised, is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which help boost the immune system. The good fats in salmon reduce inflammation, keep blood flowing and lower triglycerides. Other heart healthy fish are sardines, barramundi and tuna. Two servings a week is a good start.

2. Ground flax seeds. Rich in fiber and vegetarian Omega-3 that is easily added to a variety of foods like soups and salads. Try them in cereal, yogurt and protein smoothies. Helps reduce blood cholesterol.

3. Nuts. Walnuts are loaded with vitamin E and Omega-3 fatty acids and are a delicious source for magnesium. These nuts help reduce cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of unsalted, oil-free nuts a week as part of a balanced diet. Note: These are high in calories. Moderation is key.

4. Beans and legumes. Include red kidney beans and black beans, chickpeas and lentils. These are all rich in magnesium, vitamin B complex and are a good source of soluble fiber, which reduces cholesterol. These also add folate and magnesium to the diet. Soy is a lean vegetarian protein that may lower cholesterol. Edamame is loaded with fiber that keeps cholesterol down.

5. Berries. Berries in general are good, but especially blueberries, which are a good source of ellagic acid, an antioxidant that protects blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and reduces LDL. Oranges are rich in flavonoids, vitamin C, potassium, folic and fiber. Oranges also help lower blood pressure and protect blood vessels. (Eat the whole fruit, don’t just drink the juice or you miss out on the heart-healthy fiber.) Other good sources are cantaloupe and papaya.

6. Red wine. The antioxidants like catechins and resveratrol in red wine appear to increase HDL and reduce LDL. Limit to one four-ounce glass of wine a day. (If you’re a teetotaler, you can get these benefits in fruits and vegetables.)

7. Oatmeal. Oatmeal has Omega-3 fatty acids and is also rich in soluble fiber, magnesium, potassium and niacin. Oatmeal helps to lower LDL. Try steel cut oats for the highest fiber.

8. Avocado. Packed with healthy monounsaturated fat, which lowers LDL. They promote the absorption of carotenoids that improve heart health. Replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat sources may improve LDL numbers. An example would be to use vegetable oil (unsaturated) instead of butter (saturated).

9. Tea. Tea (black or green) is rich in flavonoids, which is an antioxidant that protects cells from damaging free radicals.

10. Dark chocolate. The high flavanol content has a blood thinning effect that the heart loves. A compound in dark chocolate called epicatechin boosts nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. Pick carefully at the candy counter. The dark chocolate has to be 70 percent pure cocoa or higher to be beneficial. The recommended portion is two small pieces a day.

Above all, changes in diet must become a lifestyle modification, not just a temporary fix to help you squeeze into your clothes for a 30th high school reunion or a wedding.

“We must consider changing our lifestyles for heart health,” Angel said. “We recommend that people practice moderation in their diets, including a variety of foods such as lean protein, fiber and low saturated food. Foods rich in fiber can help you stay fuller, and therefore may help reduce weight.”

And watch the salt.

“Flavor your food with herbs and spices to prepare delicious sodium-controlled meals that won’t raise your blood pressure,” Talamas said.

Photo: Chef Petey Jimenez, right, sprinkles some flax seeds on a salmon dish that he prepared while dietician Ximena Jimenez and Dr. Dean Heller look on. (Hector Gabino/El Nuevo Herald/TNS)