Movement as Medicine: Fighting Parkinson’s, Literally

Diagnosed at age 45 with young-onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD), Stan Prinsen, has been using fitness to fight the progression of his symptoms for 13 years. “Movement is medicine,” he says. “That’s very true for a lot of motion disorders, but in Parkinson’s, specifically, movement definitely helps you.”

A long-time cyclist, Prinsen, now 58, started boxing around the time of his diagnosis and has also taken up tai chi to manage his symptoms—both physical and mental—and now he’s sharing his experience via a new class at The Wilderness in Uptown: Non-contact Boxing for Parkinson’s starts in September.

The keyword here is non-contact.

Because Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder, going Golden Gloves would be detrimental—even dangerous. “No one hits anybody; the only thing you hit are mitts and heavy bags,” Prinsen says.

An Uptowner for 36 years (and counting!), Prinsen wanted to launch a class close to home and share his experience with the community. Though he’s quick to note he’s not an expert: “I’m just a guy with Parkinson’s who likes to box.”

Prinsen wandered into The Wilderness (metaphorically, of course) via his brother, Tim, who owns the Lake Street building The Wilderness calls home. Prinsen partnered with Katie Winter, a gymnastics-instructor-turned-boxing-coach, and began hosting classes at 7:30 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in July in the garden level fitness + co-working space. After a brief pause this month, the next stint of classes begins in September.

How Parkinson’s Presents

While the average diagnosis age for Parkinson’s sits around 60, younger people can also present with the disease. And while YOPD symptoms are much slower progressing, rigorous exercise has two-fold benefits for the full spectrum of symptoms—especially in younger patients.

Exercise helps tune hand-eye coordination to manage physical symptoms, yes, but it’s also neuroprotective: it actually slows the progression of the disease because it’s integrating mind and body work. “A lot of people have been healthier now since they’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s than they’ve been in their whole lives because they’ve started working out more,” Prinsen says. “It’s not the motivator most people would ask for, that’s for sure.”

The Dopamine Drop-off

What the average eye sees as Parkinson’s are tremors and sometimes slurred speech. But what’s really happening is a major drop in dopamine levels in the brain, Mayo Clinic explains. Certain neurons in the brain begin to break down and die, which inhibit the production of dopamine (the happy chemical in your brain). Decreased dopamine causes atypical brain activity, which leads to impaired movement and other symptoms.

We know dopamine as the reward trigger that sends happy waves through your brain. Think: shopping, smelling cookies, getting close with your S.O., and exercise.

“There’s a lot of addictive qualities of not having dopamine,” Prinsen says. “So, keeping that dopamine supply up can be very crucial.” People with Parkinson’s are susceptible to developing gambling and other addictions and depression. “You’re getting dopamine from the exercise, which can help with the Parkinson’s, but it can also help with depression.”

Yes, there are medications that can boost your dopamine levels, but those come with their own set of side effects and risks. “There’s the blood-brain barrier issue, which is always a problem when you’re trying to get meds to the brain,” Prinsen says. And “synthetic dopamine is nowhere near as effective as naturally produced dopamine.” Plus, being on these medications for many years can cause other effects, like large, spasmic movements.

Exercise helps smooth out the rigidness forming in muscles as the disease advances. “People get cramps in their legs, their feet, their hands often, because their muscles start to atrophy when the tremors start,” Prinsen says.

We’ve said time and time again that fitness is critically important because of, yes, the physical aspect, but also because of the camaraderie and support of a community sweating side by side. That’s especially true for people battling physical challenges. “It’s just a community of people who are going through the same thing,” Prinsen says. “Seeing somebody who’s maybe worse off than you are in their progression working as hard as they can to stave it off—that’s the sense of community and that’s, in a sense, its own motivation.”

Classes are on pause for the summer, but will resume in the September. The classes are capped at 12 people, and Prinsen and his team conduct evaluations of participants before they join. He encourages signing up for evaluations to reserve a space in the fall classes.

Boxing for Parkinson’s is at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday beginning in September, available for sign up via the website or the MindBody app.

The Wilderness Fitness and Coworking, 1010 W. Lake St., Mpls., 952-894-0721,

Source link

Latest articles

Related articles