Yes, And...eXercise! Improvisation to improve quality of life for people with Parkinson's disease

Yes, And...eXercise! Improvisation to improve quality of life for people with Parkinson's disease

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Yes, And...eXercise! (YAX) was built off serendipity - as much in improv is. YAX Founder Robert Cochrane has performed improv for over 20 years. He began using it in the classroom about 10 years ago as a communication and team-building exercise. At the time, he wasn't aware of other practitioners, like those at ComedySportz (produced by CSz Worldwide), developing and training with what's known as Applied Improvisation. The lightbulb moment about improv's potential positive effect on PD, came when Robert introduced his dad, who has PD, to one of his favorite improv instructors, Rob Belushi. A clip of that interview from the  documentary, Boys of Summer, "Second Base", can be seen below.


...And How it Can Help


Improvisation is not stand up comedy. As we do our exercises together, laughter and humor are natural products of the play we share. We discover the laughs organically, together an they're never at anyone else's expense. Y ou know laughter feels good, but did you know it's also been shown to:

Boost the immune system, release endorphins, stimulate circulation and improve respiration (1, 2, 3).


1 Craig, 2005, 2 Baquero, 2013, 3 Schrag, 2006


PD can be a frustrating, painful disease. However, patients don't usually die directly from it. Anxiety and depression, caused by isolation, are comorbidities that can lead to significant losses in quality of life. The good news is, improv can help.


"There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators." - Julianne Holt-Lunstad


After the Northwestern study came out in 2016, Robert ran some workshops of his own across the country. He met with many neurologists, sharing the Northwestern study and what he learned. They all loved the idea and said there needs to be more research. 

So it began. He is  third-year PhD student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, studying the effect of improvisation on Parkinson's in the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences department. He began ran test classes for the Davis Phinney Foundation and its ambassadors from January-March 2021. His clinical trial ended in November 2021 and he is currently writing up the results.



Improvisation is a transformative exercise, engaging your body and mind. A simple and elegant definition for improv is: "unplanned collaborative response." While it often elicits laughs, and it is fun, it's also much more.

Improv can help increase socialization in the Parkinson's disease (PD) community, decrease depression and reshape the thought process of those affected by PD. It helps us remember and understand that though we may have or be affected by PD, we need not be defined nor unnecessarily limited by it. In short, by participating and communicating, the players will be transformed.


Improvisation has the power to transform and connect groups. There are frequently communication gaps between people with PD and their care partners, as well as medical and wellness providers. By bringing people together to see and hear each other as people, rather than disease states or titles, we can increase understanding, empathy and quality of life.

“Improvisation is a process applicable to any field, discipline, or subject matter which creates a place where full participation, communication, and transformation can take place." 

Viola Spolin


Improv, when focused on play, inclusion, and ensemble-building, has been shown to improve confidence, creativity and mood.  It's important to note that not all improv is the same. Performance-based improv on popular shows such as "Who's Line is it Anyway?" is a blast - but not at all what we're after. We make YOU look and feel great. There are no wrong answers. We celebrate failure, trust the unknown and fiercely have each others backs. Laughter happens together as we find the truth in comedy. Speaking of laughter...

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