For Mark Burek, one of the hardest things about being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease was accepting he had it.
The founder of Parkinson’s Albany was diagnosed in 2008 and called it an “eye-opener.” He said he fell into a slight depression, until he made a choice.
“You either choose to live with it or let it dictate your everyday life,” he said.
Burek’s disease takes a toll on his body every day and it slowly is getting harder to do even simple tasks, like tie his shoes. One of the few things that help him feel normal is exercise.
“The exercise portion is very important, even though (Parkinson’s) affects different people in different ways … the exercise stimulates the muscles and keeps you going,” he said.
Burek is now partnering with the Capital District YMCA to bring a new program to local residents suffering from Parkinson’s. In early July, several area locations launched the Pedaling for Parkinson’s program. The initiative is based on a study performed at the Cleveland Clinic that indicated a 35 percent reduction in Parkinson’s symptoms by pedaling a bicycle at a rapid pace. The program had been adopted at other YMCAs across the country, and was introduced in the Capital District by Burek.
“(We) want to offer programs to help individuals get active, and for those with disabilities we want to help them reclaim their health and quality of life,” said Capital District YMCA Director of Healthy Living Nancy Gildersleeve. “We have a diabetes prevention program we offer in all branches and this is a natural fit to have another course that helps our clients.”
The program is designed for those ages 30 to 75 who have been diagnosed with Idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. Each class is free for Y members, but costs $5 for others, and a signed waiver is required.
Those interested in joining the program are asked to participate in an individualized orientation with a YMCA trainer. It is also encouraged that a caregiver tag along so they can learn about the class as well. Participants will then learn about the equipment, be fitted with a heart monitor to make sure they maintain the appropriate rate of speed and be told about the class.
Gildersleeve said studies show 80 to 90 revolutions per minute results in the greatest reduction of symptoms. Classes last 60 minutes, with a warm up and cool down period included. An instructor attends all classes in order to make adjustments as necessary,
Burek said the class is also a way for those with Parkinson’s to meet others living in their community who also have the disease.
“We want to create a supportive environment,” said Gildersleeve. “This also means people don’t have to be weather-dependent and go outside to get their exercise. This is something that can be offered year-round.”
For now, the classes are being offered at the Bethlehem, Guilderland, Schenectady, Glenville and Greenbush locations. The program is set to expand to all Capital District YMCA locations later in the year.
Burek said the class offers Parkinson’s patients the same type of good feeling one would would experience after going on a long run, but 10 times better.
According to Gildersleeve, until this program was introduced several years ago there was nothing known to help slow the progression of Parkinson’s but medication and surgery.
“Exercise has been essential to my care and its something I look forward to,” said Burek, who goes to the YMCA six days a week and also delivers mail for the Post Office. “The worst thing you can do is just sit at home and not do anything. My worst days are my days off.”
To learn more, call Bethlehem YMCA’s Mark Thurman at 439-4394 ext. 1440, or Guilderland YMCA’s Harrison Moss at 456-3635 ext. 1140.