JCC offers exercise program for people with Parkinson’s disease

Stretching is part of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington’s Parkinson’s disease wellness program. Photo courtesy of the National Parkinson Foundation
Stretching is part of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington’s Parkinson’s disease wellness program.
Photo courtesy of the National Parkinson Foundation

Thanks to a new three-year grant, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington now offers a wellness program designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease.

The JCC is teaming up with the National Parkinson Foundation Center for Excellence, which awarded the grant, and Georgetown University Hospital, to offer classes for both those who have Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers.

The program includes three 10-week classes on chair-based strengthening, yoga fitness and neuromuscular-integrated action. NIA combines dance technique with martial arts and mindfulness practices from healing arts. It is “the first cardio dance workout to bring mindfulness to group exercise,” said Michelle Reedy, the JCC’s fitness general manager.

“NIA is based on a simple idea that movement is the medicine of life,” she wrote in an email.
The JCC in Rockville was one of two facilities chosen to participate in the Edmond J. Safra Parkinson’s Wellness Program after filling out an application and undergoing interviews and a site visitation. The JCC of Greater Boston also will offer the program.


Parkinson’s disease is caused by the deterioration of neurons in the brain that produce dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter that controls smooth, coordinated muscle function, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.

Roughly one million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s, which is the second most common neurodegenerative condition after Alzheimer’s, according to the foundation. The disease involves a progressive loss of motor control, including shaking while at rest and lack of facial expression, as well as depression and anxiety.

Other symptoms include slowness of movement, body stiffness and balance problems.

There is no cure, but there are medications, therapies and surgical treatments to slow the disease’s progression, according to the foundation.

Amy Gantz, chief operating officer at the JCC, called it “a great opportunity” to be able to offer this program. “We see it as a need in the community.”

The three classes began this week. Each is designed to include up to 12 people. The week before classes were to start, 12 people had already been approved for participation by Medstar Georgetown Movement Disorder Clinic, which is mandatory for participation, Gantz said.

Participants, who can take one, two or all three classes, must pay a registration fee, she said.

Overall, the Parkinson’s Wellness Initiative has four goals, JCC CEO Michael Feinstein explained in the March issue of the JCC’s publication, Center Scene.

The first is to provide wellness, support and educational opportunities for those with the disease as well as for their families. Second, the program aims to raise awareness about the disease and how people can live well with it, Feinstein wrote. Third, it will enable the JCC to
“become part of a national network of compassionate partners” who can offer hope, he wrote. Finally, the program will collect data on the progress of its participants, which it will share with national and international organizations.

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