Parkinson’s Disease is a central nervous system disease that affects our ability to control movement and speech. It usually starts with a tremor but may progress to constant shaking, muscle stiffness, trouble walking, maintaining balance and coordination. As it worsens patients may experience difficulty in speech, memory, behavioral changes and even hallucinations. Nerve cells in the brain die and the level of dopamine which is an important hormone in the brain decreases. Males are 50% more likely to be diagnosed and unfortunately there are approximately 60,000 new cases in the US annually.
As research for Parkinson’s ramped up in the 1990’s there were multiple studies showing the benefits of intense, focused exercise on slowing the progression of the disease. One surprising form of exercise that shows promising results is boxing. According to The Parkinson’s Foundation a person needs only 2.5 hrs of exercise a week to slow the symptoms down. There are training programs designed specifically for PD called Rock Steady Boxing. It is believed to help in 3 major areas, balance, mobility, and ability to maintain independence. There are numerous other benefits like increased strength, improved hand eye coordination, improved posture, improved oxygenation, increased dopamine, and fall prevention but let’s take a look at how the 3 major benefits work.
A study by the American Physical Therapy Association showed that patients who took part in 2-3, 90 minute sessions over 9 months had improvements in both balance and gait. This is achieved by learning how to control your center of gravity which is the key to success for any boxer. Boxing is known to help improve agility and mobility. This is less about bobbing and weaving to avoid punches and more about learning how to step in multiple directions, changing speed while remaining light on your toes. Recent studies out of The Cleveland Clinic show that exercise programs like RSB have “neuro-protective” benefits and the ability to slow Parkinson’s progression. Learning a new task increases our “neuroplasticity” which is the development of new communication among nerve cells.
We have several local training facilities here in Brevard County who offer the Rock Steady Program. Considering we still have no cure for Parkinson’s and there are an alarming amount of new cases each year, anything that will slow the progression is worth exploring if you or someone you know suffers from this debilitating disease. Thanks to people like Michael J. Fox and the Parkinson’s Foundation research continues to try to improve patients’ quality of life and ultimately find a cure.