Contribution by Alyssa Pollastrini, PT, DPT
Approximately 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease each year and about a half a million Americans are affected with this disease at a given time. This disease is progressive, and unfortunately the main medication, levodopa, becomes less effective over time. Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease, there is research supporting that non-contact boxing is very effective in slowing the progression of Parkinson’s Disease. Here are 5 ways boxing can help!
Balance is commonly affected in those with Parkinson’s Disease and it can lead to falls! Boxing challenges balance in a safe environment. Typically non-contact boxing involves a lot of footwork where you change direction, speeds, and narrow your base of support. By continually doing these activities, balance therefore starts to improve.
Ruth Burr attended boxing through Rock Steady Boxing out in Utah, and here is her testimonial:
When I started going to the boxing program, it made a dramatic difference! My balance gradually got better and I stopped stumbling and falling. I also gradually started being able to get up from the floor. At first, these improvements were slow and awkward, but my abilities improved a great deal.
People affected with Parkinson’s Disease often shuffle and have freezing episodes. It is also common in the later stages of the disease to have to use a cane, walker, or wheelchair. Boxing is a high intensity exercise and research shows that this high intensity aspect is very important for neurological diseases. Different chemicals get released in your brain that help change the wiring in your brain. As a result, people don’t shuffle their feet as much, have as many freezing episodes, and may not need an assistive device!
Katie Kleist in Peoria IL was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease at age 20. Her symptoms were continuing to progress. She then found a boxing program through Rock Steady Boxing:
During my pregnancies, as well as time in which I had to transition medications, I had to use a walker. I now can jump rope up to a count of 42. I would occasionally fall to my bottom because I would freeze as I attempted to pull open the fridge. I can now walk backwards on a 2×4 board as part of an obstacle course.
Strength is also commonly affected with Parkinson’s Disease. People start developing a more forward bent posture, and therefore it is very important to strengthen back and hip muscles to improve that posture. During boxing, punching helps improve shoulder and back strength. Circuit training exercises are also performed during boxing sessions as well which include both leg, hip, shoulder, and back strengthening.
Martin Zagarinski’s granddaughter wrote a testimonial for her grandpa who attended Rock Steady Boxing:
I was utterly shocked at how much strength he had gained. I don’t even think that I, as a healthy teenager, could master some of the skills he was performing!
Coordination is also affected with those diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Boxing combines both footwork and punching together which helps to improve coordination overall. The high intensity aspect described previously also helps change the wiring in the brain as well that has an effect on coordination.
Gary Powers from Charlottesville started attending Rock Steady Boxing and noticed a difference in his coordination:
I am now dressing myself, driving better and to anywhere I want to go. My signs of Parkinson’s have slowed down and many of my athletes have commented about improvements.
5. Fatigue and Endurance
It is very common in Parkinson’s Disease to experience extreme fatigue and decreased endurance. As the symptoms progress such as rigid muscles and tremors, this is all very fatiguing on the body! Due to the positive benefits of high intensity exercise has on the brain, boxing also helps decrease fatigue and improve endurance.
Here is a testimonial from Liz Voogjarv who attended Rock Steady Boxing:
I used to feel like a person living with Parkinson’s – it was my constant companion. Now, I can sometimes forget that I have PD. It is fading more into the background in terms of how I define myself.
Liz’s energy level was low, and fatigue had her napping on a daily basis. She often used many “s” words to explain how PD was affecting her – slow, shuffling, stiff, sad-faced, etc. Thanks to Rock Steady Boxing and physical therapy, those words have changed to sporty and smiley! Liz feels much more confident, resilient, and energetic.
Although there is no true cure for Parkinson’s Disease, boxing does help to slow the progression of the disease and helps improve strength, coordination, balance, walking, and decreases fatigue and improves endurance. Our Huntley Physical Therapy facility offers a non-contact boxing program where you will work one on one with a therapist for a full hour! And your insurance will cover your session! Contact us today to set up a consultation!
Emily Craigen, owner of Crystal Lake Physical Therapy, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a local Crystal Lake resident who is excited to bring health and wellness to her community.