parkinsons disease

“PushBack at Parkinson’s” class participants and physical therapists

When the UVM Medical Center’s Frederick C. Binter Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disordersopened, an immediate goal was to provide more exercise opportunities for patients with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Studies show exercise is helpful for the movement challenges that come with the disease, but there is also evidence that additional barriers to exercise exist, beyond the common obstacles of time and motivation.

So, when physical therapists Parm Padgettand Maggie Holtwanted to expand a PD exercise class they had started at the University of Vermont, Binter Center director James Boyd, MD,got on board. In addition to improving patient’s lives he saw it as a way to learn more about how to address the specific needs of people with PD.

That is how “PushBack at Parkinson’s Disease” (PushBack) was born. The class focuses on providing exercises that are beneficial to people with PD in a supportive and encouraging environment. The program revolves around a team-based approach where the person with PD is a “player” rather than a patient, and a group of players are supported by “coaches” and “partners”.

As she and Parm developed the current program, Maggie recalls a time when they started grouping the exercises in such a way that people moved quickly through the circuits. This elevated the intensity of the workout and the players responded well.

“They started working really hard and sweating and we realized we hit a good spot,” she said. “They were walking out of the class with a kind of glow.”

They also picked exercises that could be made easier or harder, so that people at many levels of fitness could exercise together. That sense of togetherness is a strong element in the class.

“We’ve come up with a set of exercises that people really seem to thrive on, and more importantly, they’re doing them on a regular basis. That’s what really seems to help them,” says Holt.

An important part of the program is educating coaches and volunteers about Parkinson’s disease, teaching them the basic exercise routine, and showing them how they can be supportive of class members. Maggie says she’s seen a lot of success. Players are extremely grateful for the opportunity to work hard, and they usually finish sessions feeling more limber, more energetic, and in less pain.

As the benefits of the program became clear, the Binter Center started to receive donations, including a large anonymous gift that helped further develop the program. This led to the current expansion of PushBack into several Vermont communities. The goal is for access across the UVM Health Network in the next five years. The program has just expanded to the central Vermont area. Classes started August 7 in Barre and will begin in Berlin on August 27.

“We’re so grateful to the donors, community gyms, local physical therapy practices, and volunteers organized through Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports for working with us to grow this important program,” said Dr. Boyd.

Maggie and Parm are also collaborating with UVM’s Rehabilitation and Movement Sciences Department to design a qualitative study to understand what makes patients come back to exercise and stick with it. They hope this will help the program grow even further.

If you are interested in registering for a class, call UVM Medical Center Rehabilitation Therapies at (802) 847-0193 to set up a screening. If you live in central Vermont, call UVM Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center Rehabilitation at (802) 371-4242. You can then decide with a PT when you are ready to start a class and they will help you contact a gym. Classes are offered in Chittenden County and central Vermont. Additionally, the program is looking for volunteers! If you’d like to volunteer with PushBack, contact Maggie Holt at (802) 847-5722 or e-mail her at

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