Classes tailored to those with Parkinson’s

When registered physiotherapist Naomi Casiro saw firsthand the positive impact exercise can have on people with Parkinson’s disease her path became clear.

“Once you see the difference it can make, it’s kind of amazing, it sparks this drive and gets you going. That’s what started the whole venture,” she says, referring to her decision to launch NeuroFit BC, a company offering physiotherapist-led exercise and wellness classes to those with the neurodegenerative disease.

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Up and running since April, Casiro has put her experiences working with Parkinson’s patients over the last few years to good use and is continuing to expand NeuroFit BC’s offerings.

“The mission of the company is to get people with Parkinson’s doing Parkinson’s-specific exercise that leads to brain change, which helps them manage their symptoms, mitigate disease progression and help them live better, help them live happier, fuller lives and they get to be able to do the things that they want to do for longer,” says the certified PWR! (an acronym for Parkinson wellness recovery) therapist and Vancouver resident.

NeuroFit BC offers ongoing boxing and Parkinson’s-specific exercise classes in Vancouver and Burnaby as well as in North Vancouver at Universal MMA.

“The research has shown very strongly that big, dynamic goal-directed movements are really good for Parkinson’s and so boxing is a fun, exciting way to help these people move bigger and better, because their movements get really stiff and really small with Parkinson’s. We’re running these boxing classes and they’re such a great way to get people smiling and doing something they enjoy and at the same time helping them change their symptoms and actually leave feeling better and moving better than when they came in,” she says.

Casiro has heard the classes have helped people go from not being able to get up off the ground to being able to return to hiking and walking longer distances. Also, she’s heard from people who were unable to roll over in bed who can now do so without a problem. They too have been able to resume daily activities that they thought they would never be able to do again.

“People are always told Parkinson’s is progressive, you’re not going to get better, and it is a progressive neurological condition, but actually people can improve their symptoms through exercise,” she says.

Classes are offered in groups of eight and community members are assessed prior to joining. Sessions begin with a dynamic warm-up, focused on balance, strength and agility, followed by a series of co-ordination movements, both on and off the ground. “Then we get our boxing gloves on and we box against a heavy bag. It’s non-contact boxing, but we do a lot of drills and different punching movements to try and challenge their brains and their bodies at the same time,” says Casiro of the high-intensity hour-long class, followed by a cool down.

In addition to specialized group exercise classes, NeuroFit BC provides one-on-one physiotherapy sessions in patients’ homes or in a gym setting. In an effort to reach more Parkinson’s patients as well as make it easier for them to do Parkinson’s-specific work at home more often, Casiro is in the process of launching a new free at-home exercise video series.

“I’m proud to be serving a group in the community that has been under served in the past. The research has shown how incredible exercise is for neuroplasticity and brain change but clients are told to exercise and then they have nowhere to go to tell them how and what they should be doing and how to do it without getting injured. I’m proud to be providing a service that I think helps change people’s lives and that’s why I started doing it in the first place because I really think it does change lives for the better.”

Casiro plans to launch the video series by the end of the month. 

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