Slowing the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease with Exercise

Slowing the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease with Exercise

Physical therapy students and faculty offer a free exercise class that helps St. Augustine residents with the progressive neurological disease.

Nikki Whitney was always active, always on her feet. At various times a caterer, storekeeper, bed and breakfast manager, and winery tour guide, she was a people person on the go. Then something inside her felt amiss. She told her doctors that she didn’t feel like herself. They struggled with a diagnosis, but eventually it was clear that it was Parkinson’s disease.

“I was rigid, stiff, expressionless, my walk was slow, everything about me was slow and had changed,” she says. “I’d look at myself in the mirror and ask ‘Who are you today?’ I could not align the old me with who I was looking at.”

Not long after her diagnosis, Nikki found the Parkinson’s disease exercise class that Melanie Lomaglio, PT, MSc, NCS, runs with her fifth-term Doctor of Physical Therapy students at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. Research has shown that exercise can slow the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms, which affect as many as 1 million Americans. During the free, 8-week class each trimester, students develop plans for safe and therapeutic exercises that are customized for each of the 20 or so participants and then work with them in the University’s Wellness Center.

“When we have participants with Parkinson’s, students get a chance to connect the dots from what they’re learning out of a textbook or from a lecture to an actual patient,” says Lomaglio. “Giving back to your community is also part of being a professional, especially in the health care field.”

The exercises are geared toward the impairments Parkinson’s causes, such as slowness and small movements. For a portion of the class, students lead participants through active stretches and repetitive whole body, large amplitude exercises. Participants also make use of the exercise bikes and treadmills in the Wellness Center to promote aerobic fitness. After the completion of the program, participants often report improvements in speed, balance, and walking ability.

Since joining to the exercise class, Nikki has seen results. “I was stiff to start like everyone else. None of it came easily,” she says. “Each class showed me that with exercise and a support system, the body could open up and take on so much more than you thought you could.

“It’s changed my life around,” she adds. “Even my movement disorder neurologist said to me … if I were to pass you on the street today, I’d never guess you have Parkinson’s.”

Melanie Lomaglio, PT, MSc, NCS, also facilitates the St. Augustine Parkinson’s Disease Support Group, which hosts social gatherings and guest speakers every month. It is free and open to the public. For more information, visit

Before class begins, Drew Solieau and other physical therapy students check participants’ vitals to ensure they are ready for exercise.


Nikki Whitney, left, works out on an exercise bike while physical therapy student Rachael Brousse spots her.

Kathy Schutzman has been a member of the exercise class since 2012 and says she is impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and level of preparation.


Student Jillian Miller shows participants a movement based on the LSVT BIG exercise treatment program that has shown success for people with Parkinson’s.


People with Parkinson’s are at higher risks for falls, so student Kyle Van Benschoten stays close.


The summer 2016 Parkinson’s disease exercise class. The front row is Doctor of Physical Therapy students. Faculty member Melanie Lomaglio is the first person in the back row on the left and faculty member Anne Boddy is the last person on the right with faculty member Kerry Mallini to her right

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