Bob Minister and Parkinson’s became acquainted 16 years ago, and every day since, they’ve fought each other, tooth and nail.
From the day of his diagnosis, the 63-year-old Kent man has been punching back, doing whatever he can to ward off the horrible effects of this progressive, debilitating disease, which can cause deterioration of motor skills, balance, speech and sensory function.
Lately, that personal plight means putting on the gloves.
“It challenges me,” said Minister, moments after finishing a 90-minute, non-contact boxing exercise therapy session at the Longevita Pilates & Yoga Studio in Auburn. “I leave every workout just beat. … But, for me, anything I do is a victory.”
Minister, a 20-year Navy veteran who worked as an electrician and maintenance planner, vows to stay nimble on his feet in his quest to reverse, reduce or delay the symptoms of a neurological disorder that affects so many.
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, as many as one million Americans live with the disease, and approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with it each year, a number that does not reflect the thousands of undetected cases.
To confront it, neurologists prescribe exercise – and plenty of it.
Boxing, as doctors suggest, effectively takes a jab at PD.
Mike Sellars understands this. Diagnosed with the disease a year ago, the former realtor who lives on Kent’s East Hill, joined Rock Steady Boxing South King County, a full-body workout program designed for people with Parkinson’s.
Since becoming an affiliate and coach with the nonprofit organization, Sellars has helped open the program’s door to men and women of all walks dealing with PD. Auburn is the latest location to offer frequent afternoon classes. Covington and the UW/Valley Medical Center campus in Renton are the others.
What began with five participants has grown to more than 50, Sellars said, with ages ranging from 27 to 92. The class provides the proper equipment and trained instructors.
While boxing isn’t for every person with Parkinson’s, its benefits cannot be ignored.
“Parkinson’s tends to slow our movement, and boxing is a speed sport,” Sellars said. “It’s about footwork, agility, lateral movement … conditioning.”
It also tests balance and hand-eye coordination, all of which can be affected by Parkinson’s, and builds muscle strength. The classes also throw in cognitive-thinking drills. And, at Longevita, a certified Pilates instructor helps build core strength, mobility and range of motion, in addition to addressing back and postural issues.
Forced, intense exercise that’s coach-led with peer pressure tends to make you work harder, Sellars said. And that intensity is important to producing a dopamine boost. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that carries signals between brain cells, the shortage of which is tied to symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Sellars has always been fit. At 68, he frequently plays tennis and rides his bike. Exercise is his elixir.
“For me, it’s about delaying (the symptoms),” Sellars said. “When I got diagnosed, (my doctor) said you have eight to 10 good years. I want to make that 12, 15 or more good years.”
Perhaps just as significant, the Rock Steady program unifies those fighting the same disease, Sellars said. It’s group therapy that offers friendships, camaraderie and emotional support.
“This has been my lifeline,” Sylvia Junt said after finishing her workout. “My mood has improved. … Definitely, it’s a big change for me.
“I am a fighter among fighters. We are in this battle together, each of us giving it our best.”