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Jul 2, 2021

A New Program Giving Hope Through Exercise: Island fitness guru turns attention to battling debilitating disease

Tim Wood

Photography By

CH2/CB2 Magazine
Fitness is personal. It’s the one thing above all that Heath Babb has learned in his three-decade journey in the fitness industry. There has to be a drive, an inner reason, and any program that truly achieves results tailors the plan specifically to a client’s needs and goals.

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The owner of Your Active Life and the founder of the island’s first CrossFit in 2009 has given hope and excitement to so many clients and friends through the years, but he has recently taken on a whole new level of personal challenge.

One of Babb’s earliest mentors was Ted Reese, a legendary high school and college wrestling coach in Maine. He passed away after an extended battle with Parkinson’s disease.

“He suffered largely in silence with it, never told anyone what he was truly dealing with. It robbed him of all the physicality, all the movement, but he never let us know why,” Babb said. “This disease, it can take the most excitable people and make them introverts immediately. You don’t die of Parkinson’s, you die with it. It just shuts everything down consistently, including people’s hope.”

Babb has also seen a close friend on the island, Nancy Brubaker, valiantly battle Parkinson’s over the past five years.

“She has the Parkinson’s freeze, where you’re walking and your feet just freeze. It’s one of so many things that just rob you of the littlest joys,” Babb said. “Parkinson’s is a piece of the brain overworking, just sending too many signals, and it confuses everything.”

Seeing folks close to him battling the disease, Babb did what he’s done so many times before, setting out to find answers and a way to help through fitness. That connected him with the Delay the Disease Parkinson’s program through OhioHealth.

The program was created at OhioHealth by Jackie Russell and David Zid, the nation’s leading Parkinson’s fitness expert. The regimen has quickly earned a reputation as the nation’s No. 1 evidence-based fitness program, with participants showing improvement in mobility, posture, balance, handwriting, speech volume and a reduction in daily functional challenges—a literal delaying of a disease that can rapidly ravage the brain.

“This is about reconnecting those brain pathways. It’s physical work but it’s also cognitive, things like writing and facial expressions,” Babb said. “It’s about constantly challenging the brain. We have folks yelling out loud and counting as loud as they can while walking, connecting processes and challenging the brain with the daily tasks that healthy folks take for granted but are everything for folks living with Parkinson’s.”

Babb’s research into Delay the Disease led him to Scott Rider, a Beaufort resident who has lived with Parkinson’s for more than 15 years and has become a leading advocate for the Delay the Disease program.

“When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I very quickly learned through research that daily exercise is a very critical component in the battle of this disease for which there is no cure,” Rider said. “That led me to Delay the Disease, and I can say that there is no other Parkinson’s-specific exercise program that combines science and exercise. I say with certainty that this program has helped me to manage my Parkinson’s and live a quality of life that would not have otherwise been possible.”

Rider recently got connected with Brubaker and her husband Terry and introduced the Delay the Disease program to them. Babb said the early results he saw with his friend inspired him to start the island’s first Delay the Disease program at Your Active Life.

“I see Nancy have hope now; I see progress and I see regaining of activity and all of that is just essential. When there’s hope, there’s a will to keep fighting and to battle for that quality of life,” Babb said.

He has taken the same approach to Delay the Disease that he has with Your Active Life—a personalized group training ratio with a 1-to-5 trainer-to-client ratio so every client is getting specific attention beyond teaching the program’s overarching themes.

He has brought in three trainers certified to teach Delay the Disease, led by specialist Mollie Kinard. This is just the latest step in Babb’s evolution toward helping an underserved portion of the population achieve their fitness goals.

“When I moved back to the island, I realized at 44 that I truly enjoy working with the 40-plus community,” Babb said. “It’s really become a passion, to show folks that there is a path back to an active life. It can get away from you; folks often make themselves the last priority. We’re here to just help get that balance back, that attention back, that passion back.”

Babb’s work is far from just physical. He focuses a lot on breathing work, stretching, mobility, meditation and mental well-being in concert with the physical workouts.

“We have folks like high-level executives and entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, folks that have spent a lot of time caring for others or nurturing passions outside of themselves,” he said. “A lot of them are former high school or college athletes. I have a former collegiate tennis player, a pro fisherman, that just let fitness slip away a little bit. The drive is still inside you; it just needs to be awoken, nourished a bit.”

Clients get a free assessment and there is an interview to make sure the training is a good fit, that there will be a three-month-minimum ‘all-in’ buy-in to the program. “We check joint health, mental health, all the physical numbers, to get the full picture,” Babb said. “We can get them moving well, reduce, even eliminate that joint pain, but they have to be ready to truly commit to this, because there’s a process. This isn’t a gym. We have all the tools of a gym, but this is a lifestyle change first and foremost. That’s where so many fitness programs fail. You can always get short-term results like weight loss. But you have to transform the lifestyle to see the long-term gains.”

Babb is hoping to build the Delay the Disease program out to 20 clients in the coming months. He is hoping that the results that folks like Rider and Brubaker have seen will help spread the word among the local community that there is a new path to hope.

“We know we can help. It’s just getting the word out there, getting people outside of the introverted bubbles this disease has caused and getting them together in a group,” Babb said. “I’ve seen what Mollie and our other certified trainers can do. Now we just have to spread that gospel and build this community.”

For more information on Delay the Disease and Your Active Life, visit youractivelife.online/delaythedisease or call Babb at (929) 464-5483.

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