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Parkinson's is not a barrier to fitness

Nancy Nelson is a 'powerhouse' exercise instructor


by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Nancy Nelson doesnt take it easy on her exercise class students. But she has a way of bringing out their best efforts.

Once upon a time the wisdom was that people suffering from Parkinson’s disease should never exercise because there was a big danger of them falling down.

That was soooooooooooooooo wrong. Fitness specialist Nancy Nelson has specialized in making people with Parkinson’s healthier for nearly 20 years, including her exercise class in Lake Oswego for Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon.

“I over-challenge them,” says Nelson, and her students never disappoint her at the workout facility in the Providence Mercantile Center in Lake Oswego. “That way the activities they face in their daily lives won’t be so challenging.”

Nelson addresses as many Parkinson’s symptoms as she can, such as poor posture, leaning the head too far forward, rounded shoulders and shuffling steps. She strengthens their back muscles and stretches their chest muscles. She has her class members do all kinds of exercises, including tai chi.

“I think it’s a big thing to work on agility, balance, even cognition,” Nelson said. “We do a little of everything. I don’t want them to become rigid and stiff.”

Nelson has succeeded in impressing Bela Friedman, who has her own public relations firm and is a volunteer for Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon. Friedman works to make the public aware of people who are advocates for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, such as Nancy Nelson.

“Nancy is helping people create incredible lives for themselves,” Friedman said. “She’s a powerhouse. Her caring and compassionate style helps people learn techniques they can easily incorporate into their lives.”

It wasn’t long after Nelson and her husband moved to Oregon from Milwaukee, Wisc., 17 years ago that she became a specialist in transforming the lives of people with Parkinson’s. She had just accepted a position as a physical fitness instructor at the YMCA on Barbur Boulevard when she got involved with a new program put together by OHSU and the YMCA. The program threw out the old concept that exercise was bad for Parkinson’s sufferers, and Nelson proved to be the ideal person to promote the new way of thinking. In 2009 she joined the program of Providence based in Lake Oswego, and she is now the instructor for six classes with 60 exercise students. Her students are willing, and Nelson has the ability to adjust to all of their needs.

“Some of my students have had Parkinson’s for 20 years. Some have had it for three months,” Nelson said. “It’s a challenge to gear the class to a wide range of needs.

“It’s like Dr. Exercise said at the (recent) conference for Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon. Everyone knows medication is important in treating Parkinson’s, but it can’t do everything that exercise can.”

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the job for Nelson is when her students surprise her.

“I had a man in class for three weeks, and I thought ‘He should not be here,’ “ Nelson said. “He was legally blind, and I thought there was a huge danger he was risking a fall. I was grumbling to myself about it.

“Last week he jumped off the floor with a big smile and said, ‘I can really tell this is making a difference.’”

Nelson has a lot of stories like this, and she is the reason they happen.

“I want to keep doing this as long as I can make an impact,” Nelson said. “I’m a tool to help people lead healthier lives.”

For more about Nancy Nelson go to the website mypdex.com. For more about Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon, go to parkinsonsresourcesl.org.



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