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Aquatic teacher Barbara McCormick

“Whose old father ate beans? Oo-oh-ah-ay-ee!” If you have Parkinson’s disease, you may find that repeating these words helps strengthen your voice muscles according to Barbara McCormick, aquatic exercise teacher. McCormick is not a speech therapist, but she recognizes speech and swallowing as important aspects of wellness. Aging can bring weaker speech and swallowing. Regardless of age, some people with Parkinson’s may develop a soft, monotone voice or swallowing challenges.

McCormick, a dedicated amateur musician who also plays the Oboe and English Horn with the New Millennium Chamber Orchestra in Palo Alto, includes voice exercises in her classes that she leads in the pools at SF Towers, San Francisco and the Stonestown Family YMCA. When repeating the beans refrain, McCormick suggests putting your first two fingers in your mouth, stacked vertically between your upper and lower teeth. Shout the words out loud while gently holding your fingers between your teeth. Because your jaw is immobilized during this exercise, your throat muscles must work harder.

McCormick also recommends whistling as good exercise for strengthening voice and improving swallowing. In her aquatics classes, she leads participants in marching and whistling. If you don’t whistle regularly, you may be surprised to discover that you’ve lost the ability to whistle. But with practice, you can learn to whistle again! Meanwhile, if you cannot whistle, hum loudly. Have fun with these tongue-twisters, and soon you’ll be whistling Yankee Doodle Dandy!

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