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Read Time 12 min

Cathie Baker is Not Messing Around With Parkinson’s

Your jaw will drop when you read about this 66-year-old woman’s fitness routine. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

When Cathie Baker of Scappoose, Oregon, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2014 at the age of 61, she was “a little bit freaked out,” she admits.

Her father had lived with Parkinson’s and struggled with the disease, which progressed quickly and led to dementia.

“It was really bad because he didn’t go to the doctor right away,” Baker explained. “But my neurologist was very good and said, ‘Don’t worry about that. We caught it at a good time.’”

By then, scientists had advanced their research around the causes, symptoms and treatments for Parkinson’s. Promising results from clinical trials had proven that consistent, high-intensity exercise helps mitigate Parkinson’s symptoms and slow down disease progression.

For Baker, the future didn’t seem quite so bleak. When she no longer appeared worried about her Parkinson’s diagnosis, the rest of her family – Baker’s husband and their four grown children – followed suit. “At first they were concerned, but they’ve gotten comfortable with it,” she said.

If you witnessed for yourself this 66-year-old grandmother lay 200 punches into a speedbag Muhammad Ali style, you wouldn’t be that concerned either. Cathie Baker is not messing around.

Kicking Parkinson’s (bleep!) through kickboxing

In 2015, the TV show “60 Minutes” aired an episode featuring correspondent Leslie Stahl, whose husband, Aaron Lathan, had Parkinson’s disease. The couple was taking a Rock Steady boxing class at a Brooklyn, New York, gym.

Baker, a retired legal secretary, caught that fateful episode and saw for herself the benefits of exercise for Parkinson’s disease.

“I already knew Brian Grant had it,” she said. “When my dad had Parkinson’s, we did one of the Brian Grant fundraisers. So, I contacted the organization. The gal who called me back told me they were setting up an exercise program,” she said. Shortly after that call, she started a boxing program.

To this day, boxing remains one of Baker’s favorite ways to exercise. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I do my boxing at home now.”

“Everyone I’ve met in the Parkinson’s community has been really great. That was something I wasn’t expecting at all—the friendships I’ve made.”

Baker used to do 50 jump ropes at a time, but when one of her Rock Steady boxing buddies challenged her to do more, the competition was on.

“He and I are the same age, and he’s further along with the disease,” she said. “He was doing at least 100 jump ropes. Now I try to do 200 jump ropes. I did get up to 400 one time, but that was a one-shot deal.”

Did we mention that Cathie Baker is not messing around?

Exercise is the best medicine for Parkinson’s

Using exercise as a way to combat Parkinson’s disease resonated with Baker because she has always been physically active. “I played soccer as an adult. I did that until I was 55. I’ve always gone to the gym and worked out, so it wasn’t anything new. I just stepped it up,” she said.

Today, Baker takes fitness classes through Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon in Beaverton. “I do a balance and a gait class, and then I do bootcamp, which has some real intense exercises that push you. Plus, it helps you work on balance and cognition,” she said.

She finds big arm movements particularly challenging because her left arm doesn’t want to swing automatically anymore. “I have to make it do that. Those are the kind of exercises that are really good for you. They get old, but they are important. So, you keep doing them.”

In addition to her Parkinson’s-specific classes, Baker is very active at her gym in Scappoose where she takes strength training classes and yoga.

“There is one class that I call my ‘torture class’ because it is a lot of young people doing things like burpees, squats and some weights,” she said. “The instructor knows I have Parkinson’s and says, ‘Just do what you can do.’”

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, when Baker doesn’t have a scheduled fitness class, she works out at home with her punching bag, jump rope and hula hoop. “I do 100 hoops in each direction. I also jog a couple of times a week and go a couple of miles to make sure I do something every day,” she said.

Her best advice for other people living with Parkinson’s? “Keep moving. Don’t get discouraged. Even my neurologist said, ‘I can tell you’re getting worse, but it’s going so slowly that I’m convinced it’s your exercise.’”

In case you forgot, Cathie Baker is not messing around.

Kathryn Jones

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