Parkinson’s disease, a disease recognized usually by name but many times not by what it is. Parkinson’s is classified as a progressive neurological disease in which the substantia nigra is affected. This part of the brain produces dopamine which allows for bodily movement. When these dopamine producing neurons die, movement dysfunction occurs. Parkinson’s symptoms noticeably occur when a loss of dopaminergic cells get to between 70-80%.
Rock Steady is a non-contact boxing class specifically for those with Parkinson’s. Participants engage in exercise that is based on boxing principles. Our participants wear boxing gloves, they hit heavy bags and do focus mitt training. They do speed bag work and shadow boxing. We also have participants do intensive circuit based training, functional movements (getting off the floor, high knee stepping, walking, twisting/turning, etc.), flexibility training, and voice activation. They do something that is important and most recognized; they have fun!
Our Rock Steady Boxing program at Bethany offers something else very unique to every Rock Steady group; an outlet to literally fight back against a disease that aims to take control away from a person. Participants engage in teamwork and help build their social foundations that Parkinson’s can slowly take away. Participants reduce their anxiety and instead build and regain confidence as they get stronger, improve coordination and ease rigidity of movement. We push our participants to challenge themselves and each other while also being aware of their overexertion in terms of safety.
The Rock Steady method hones in on the concept of forced intense movement. Forced intense movement is common in the exercise realm. It is when the body must go through movement that makes it work harder than it normally does. In the case of Parkinson’s disease, imagine a person who has the right side of their body affected with movement. As they walk, their arm swing on the right side is very limited which is causing the arm to stiffen up with other movements needed for everyday use. With forced intense movement, they are encouraged to emphasize various movements with their right arm during different drills rather than continuing the limited movement. For those with Parkinson’s, this can be incredibly challenging but the end result is much more beneficial because they regain the use of their arm.
Let’s go over some of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease and then tie in the benefits that boxing can give:
Benefits of Boxing
Slowness of Movement
Speed of movement
At Bethany, we have already seen drastic improvements with our boxers after just 4 weeks of training. Currently, we have 10 participants that come to our sessions regularly. During pretesting evaluations, we noticed that 7 out of 10 participants could independently perform a Sit to Stand test; a 30 second timed test. By the third week of class, all 10 participants independently are able to perform the Sit to Stand multiple times. One of our participants who has difficulty with balance and rigidity had his wife report back that he was fully dancing at a wedding and they hadn’t been able to dance in a few years together. One gentleman who predominately has to use a wheelchair due to balance and fatigue and has limited use of his left arm due to the Parkinson’s now is able to sit up taller, walk greater distances with better balance, and is getting greater movement in his left arm. These results we know will not happen this quickly for everyone but it demonstrates the power that exercise really does have. The American College of Sports Medicine along with the American Medical Association declared that Exercise is Medicine a few years back. This in conjunction with Rock Steady really proves the power that exercise has for us as human beings whether apparently healthy or fighting disease, illness or injury.
Rock Steady Boxing at Bethany Village is excited with the progress that we have seen with the program and participants thus far. Our goal is to provide a safe place for those with Parkinson’s disease to exercise as well as provide truly effective exercise to allow those with Parkinson’s to try and regain control over their bodies. Parkinson’s disease can take away many things but we are trying to give hope back to those who feel there isn’t any. We are going to stand tall against Parkinson’s disease and be ‘Rock Steady’ in our efforts.
Craig A. Cole
Bethany Exercise Physiologist
Rock Steady Boxing Coach
Exercise is Medicine Credentialed