Out of the diagnosis of an incurable, debilitating disease a program has blossomed that brings participants joy, provides them support and gets their bodies and minds moving. Move.Laugh.Connect. (MLC), originally designed for adults with movement disorders, is proving beneficial to anyone who wants to improve their brain health.

“MLC began with my husband, Charles, being diagnosed with Parkinson’s,” MLC co-founder Susan Sterling, PhD, explains. “We started looking at things that would improve health and happiness and three disciplines immediately emerged in the scientific literature—exercise, laughter and positive outlook on life and social connectedness.”

Through the unique approach of combining physical, emotional and social dimensions, MLC aims to extend the functional years of its participants and provide the tools necessary to fight mental deterioration.


What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Movement is one of the primary components of MLC. The classes teach participants how to improve fundamental movement skills while simultaneously challenging and improving their brain health through activities and games. The exercise portion incorporates:

  • Functional movements such as sit to stand
  • Gait training
  • Muscular endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Balance and coordination

“Exercise is a spark that ignites the brain,” Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, Founder and Chairman of Cooper Aerobics, states. “It increases the blood flow the brain and supplies more oxygen to the brain, producing neurons in areas of the brain that control memory and creativity.”

Partner work and small group games also enhance concentration, reaction time, coordination and cognitive skills. Each class ends with a dancing segment, which is proven to enhance one’s mental health through memory recall, rhythm and most importantly, fun!


Just as important as the exercise, laughter and humor is built into MLC. Jokes, funny stories and fun and expressive attire are all welcomed and encouraged.

Research has shown many positive links between laughter and health.

  • Improves mood
  • Lowers stress
  • Relieves pain
  • Improves blood flow
  • Improves memory


Being connected is very important to health, well-being and personal happiness. People who are not socially connected are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior and suicidal behavior. Yet those who feel more connected have higher self-esteem and greater empathy for others and are more trusting and cooperative.

“We know engaging yourself in a social environment—meeting people, making new friends—is great for the brain,” comments Carla Sottovia, PhD, MLC Director and Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer.


MLC focuses on developing social bonds and a support system. The classes include walk and talk activities for participants to get to know each other on a more personal level. Social events and a new member buddy system are also avenues to help participants develop friendships within the class.

Most MLC participants may not necessarily have movement disorders but are simply limited enough to where other classes may be too difficult. All participants enjoy the brain fitness activities and social aspect. “While similar programs at other health and fitness clubs focus on recovery from strokes and brain injuries, MLC is geared toward prevention.” says Sottovia.

Moving Up and Out

“We are in the final stages of editing the materials and classes that were videotaped for the instructors’ training program, available online this fall,” Sottovia discloses. To become certified to teach MLC, one must hold either a group exercise or personal training certification before completing the 8+ hour training course with live lectures, class specific reading material and is concluded with a final exam in order to lead an MLC class at their fitness facility.

Participants experience a variety of exercises to preserve functionality, embrace humor and actively engage with fellow classmates in a safe, relaxing environment. Founded by Dr. Charles and Susan Sterling, MLC classes are available in Louisiana, Florida and Texas including at Cooper Fitness Center (CFC) and the YMCA in Dallas. Without a doubt, this program is all about extending your functional years.