Can Boxing Training Improve Parkinson’s Symptoms?

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After former Marion County Prosecutor, Scott C. Newman was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 41, he began an intensive, high-energy one-on-one boxing training program which he claims dramatically improved his agility, daily functioning and overall physical health.

In 2006, thanks to private donations, Newman founded Rock Steady Boxing, the only boxing program in the USA aimed at people with Parkinson’s disease. He started off with a small gym and boxing ring.

Newman hired former world champion professional boxer Kristy Rose Follmar, who helped build up Rock Steady’s program during its initial stages. Today she is head trainer at Rock Steady Boxing.

The unique high-intensity boxing program gradually became more popular as word-of-mouth recommendations spread. Newman says there is a program for all stages of Parkinson’s – from newly diagnosed patients to people who have been living with the disease for decades. Male and female, young and old individuals can find a program that is suitable for their levels of fitness, age, and severity of symptoms.

Newman and team explain that boxing training offers Parkinson’s patients targeted workouts as well as lots of fun. It is also a way of forming friendships with other people who really do understand what it is like to have to live with Parkinson’s disease.

Boxing gloves
Rock Steady Boxing is a boxing program in the USA aimed at helping people with Parkinson’s disease.

By 2010, Rock Steady had outgrown its premises and started looking for a larger facility. In February 2011, a boxing gym was opened in Indianapolis thanks to a $100,000 “Impact Grant” and a partnership with Peak Performance Fitness Center.

Thanks to the Impact 100 grant, Rock Steady was able to gradually increase the number of classes available. Doctors started referring patients early in their diagnosis to Rock Steady sessions as part of their regime to slow down Parkinson’s progression.

Rock Steady has a simple message:

“If you are living with Parkinson’s, you are not alone. Our boxers may not win titles or trophies, but they are all champions in the Rock Steady Boxing ring.”

Trainers can learn the Rock Steady method at “Rock Steady Training Camp”.

Newman’s aim is to reach thousands of individuals with Parkinson’s throughout the USA who need help with coordination, agility, balance, strength, daily functioning and overall physical health.

Attacking Parkinson’s at its vulnerable neurological points

The training classes focus on attacking Parkinson’s at its most vulnerable neurological points.

The classes (all non-contact) concentrate on overall fitness and include:

  • calisthenics
  • core work
  • double-ended bags
  • focus mitts
  • heavy bags
  • jump rope
  • ring work
  • speed bags
  • circuit weight training

What if I have no boxing experience? – the courses are aimed at people with Parkinson’s of all ages, with or without boxing experience.

Is boxing better than physical therapy or going to exercise classes at my local fitness center? – Newman says that a number of studies carried out during the latter part of the last century showed that intensive exercise, focusing on gross motor movement, rhythm, core strength, balance, and hand-eye coordination can help improve flexibility, range of motion, gait, posture, and activities of daily living – all serious issues for patients with Parkinson’s disease.

In February 2012, Daniel Corcos, a professor of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said “It became obvious several years ago that exercise really was good for people with Parkinson’s disease. Not only is it good for the heart, the brain, and muscles in the same way it is for healthy people, it also modifies signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.”

Jay L. Alberts, a neuroscientist at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, and team found that hard and fast cycling on a stationary bike benefits people with Parkinson’s disease. They presented their findings at the Radiological Society of North America 2012 Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting in Chicago. Alberts explained that cycling, especially at rates higher than what patients would normally choose for themselves, appeared to make regions of the brain involved in movement connect to each other more effectively.

Newman explains that the Rock Steady boxing regime stimulates and exercises the whole body and parts of the brain that improve the patient’s hand-eye coordination, flexibility, agility, speed, power, strength, and endurance. Boxing training also improves balance.

Do participants need a doctor’s recommendation to attend Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) classes? – Yes. Participants must have a physician’s release. They are encouraged to always discuss any form of exercise they are doing within or outside RSB with their doctors. Patients with cardiac problems, especially, must clear their participation with their doctors.

Parkinson’s Class

Scott Newman says that people at Rock Steady are learning, on a daily basis, that they can fight back at Parkinson’s disease and improve their quality of life by building muscle strength, speed and flexibility.

Through exercise with trainers who have been taught the Rock Steady method, which is specifically aimed at people with Parkinson’s, you “can fight your way out of the corner and start to feel and function better”.

Boxing training moves the human body in all planes of motion, movements are unpredictable and routines are forever changing as you progress through the workout. It has been proven, Newman says, that his classes help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life and overall health.

There are four levels of Parkinson’s Classes, each one based on the individuals’ Parkinson’s symptoms and general level of fitness. People wishing to enter a course need to complete a 90-minute assessment with a trained Rock Steady coach to determine which level suits them best. The assessments are free.

KrossBox Class

Newman refers to the KrossBox class as “fitness with a punch”. They are high-intensity sessions that combine cardio and strength training. KrossBox Class is available to males and females aged 18+ years.

Participants train for a real fight (non-contact) and have to undergo a range of demanding activities to achieve total fitness.

Through KrossBox, participants build:

  • Cardio endurance
  • More lean muscle mass
  • Superior strength
  • Extra power

With the guidance of their trainers, participants go through real boxing workouts “without the stress of actually competing”. There is the option of taking part in sparring sessions. Individuals have the benefit of one-on-one attention from trainers who are not concentrating on the fight, but rather its preparation. According to Newman “We’ll get your body in shape by training you like a pro!”

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