Free program helps people with Parkinson's disease stay in shape

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. (KABC) -- Small moves over the past six years have made a significant impact for Ernie Atkins who is battling Parkinson's disease.

"I was diagnosed more than eight years ago so I've been doing exercises for six. I assure you I wouldn't be as ambulatory and as cognizant as I am now if it weren't for the exercises, without a doubt," said Atkins.

Atkins is a Parkinson's Exercise Programs for You, or PEP4U, participant at the Laguna Niguel YMCA. The program offers free classes by trained instructors. Yoga, Shadow boxing, general exercise, cardio and spin-all meeting different needs.

Therapists say research shows exercise slows progression of the disease. PEP4U offers a place for that supervised workout.

"It's really hard because to be effective they have to be pushed to move harder and faster and more so having all these therapists and trained professionals here working with them we can continue this for them free after they run out of their therapy sessions," said physical therapist Gabi Frei.

And more free PEP4U programs are coming to Orange County.

"We found that this was so successful down here in Laguna Niguel that we established the relationship to move to Newport Mesa which is also a 'Y,' and we've also started communications with the 'Y' up in Fullerton," said Ernest Seidel, PEP4U Chair.

Staff and participants here all say the support goes beyond addressing physical needs. It helps those diagnosed, their families and care givers build a community.

'It's easier to talk about it, it's easier to deal with it if you've got people you know that have the same disease," said Atkins. "You can talk about it with them so yeah, support is a huge deal."

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