Suspension training is one of the hottest trends in exercise. Thanks to research underway in Wichita, it also might find its way into the treatment of people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
In a study conducted by Wichita State University students, faculty and alumni, Parkinson’s patients who completed an exercise regimen on suspension training equipment experienced improvement in their gait, balance and other symptoms.
They also reported really enjoying it.
“One hundred percent (of participants) felt like they noticed a change – an improvement in their overall functional ability,” said Sue Nyberg, an associate professor for the Physician Assistant Program at WSU.
“They can walk faster, move more fluidly, sit and stand better,” added Wendy Williamson, whose Williamson Wellness Center was used as the site of the project.
Parkinson’s is a disease of the nervous system that causes sufferers to shake and experience problems with walking, balance and other functions. There’s no cure, but research has shown that exercise can delay or alleviate some symptoms.
Suspension training is a form of strength training that uses ropes and straps to force participants to work against their body weight instead of, for example, lifting dumbbells. The best-known system is marketed under the TRX brand name.
Nyberg said students from three WSU departments took part in the project. Students from the physical therapy and physician assistant programs designed the project, and students from the exercise science program helped carry it out.
Williamson, a WSU graduate and adjunct faculty member, co-taught the TRX classes with Jackie Church, a former WSU volleyball player and current graduate student.
Noting that some of the participating Parkinson’s patients also were WSU alumni, Nyberg said, “We had quite the Shocker group going on there.”
The 12 patients, four women and eight men ranging in age from their 40s to 70s, were referred to WSU by local doctors. They went through eight one-hour group workouts, with each session including about 15 to 20 different exercises.
Williamson, whose center specializes in working with people with special needs, said improved strength, balance and flexibility were all goals. Suspension training made the participants “learn to use their whole body to stabilize” while performing the exercises, she said.
In one exercise, participants pulled themselves out of a squat via straps. In another, they held a strap out to one side while lifting a leg.
“People would say, ‘I’m not doing that,’ ” Williamson said. But by the end of the workouts, the same participants reported moving better and feeling less tired.
For the participants’ safety during exercises, each one was paired with a WSU student.
“They enjoyed interacting with the students,” Nyberg said. “I’ve never seen satisfaction quite that high.”
The participants were given thorough pre- and post-project assessments by the students. The results of those assessments are still being analyzed, but Nyberg said preliminary findings include:
• Suspension training can be safe for people with Parkinson’s disease.
• Researchers noted improvement in participants’ balance and gait.
• Participants reported a decrease in light-headedness and overall fatigue.
• Participants felt their overall ability to function improved.
The research team hopes to conduct another round of workout sessions. People with Parkinson’s who are interested in participating are encouraged to ask their physicians to contact WSU on their behalf.