The benefits of exercise have been touted as essential to a healthy lifestyle for decades. Running, cross training, yoga, and Pilates have all had their time on the front pages as the answer to a Fitter You. Exercise improves heart health, endurance, strength and flexibility, bone density and even your brain. Exercise is beneficial for young and old alike, and has been proven to be especially beneficial to those with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative brain disorder, is classically characterized by affecting movement. Motor symptoms include tremors, rigidity and stiffness, slowness of movement, and poor balance. Research from the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project found that exercise could improve the quality of life of people with PD. It specifically recommends at least 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise per week, which can improve your balance, flexibility, and inflammation as well as improve neuroplasticity.1
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s own way to adapt to changes caused by illness, injury or the environment. It is a natural re-education of the neurons to modify messages received by the brain. Learning new exercises, like learning a new language or trying new puzzles, are valuable techniques used by those who are aging as well as those with neurological conditions like Parkinson’s.
Rock Steady Boxing is everywhere
Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) is a non-contact fitness program designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s. Founded in 2006, by a young onset patient who wanted to challenge his disease, its origin comes from his personal regimen designed by a boxing trainer.2 Working with a coach on a modified boxing regimen to gain strength and agility, he noticed improvements in his health and a reduction in Parkinson’s symptoms. He achieved such individual improvement that he formed a nonprofit to help bring the program to others. Today there are over 450 RSB programs around the world.3
According to RSB, “boxers condition for optimal agility, speed, muscular endurance, accuracy, hand-eye coordination, footwork and overall strength to defend against and overcome opponents. At RSB, Parkinson’s disease is the opponent. Exercises vary in purpose and form but share one common trait: they are rigorous and intended to empower people with PD to fight back.”
Boxing is helpful at any stage
The benefits of exercise can be helpful throughout your disease progression. And, whether you begin at the time of diagnosis or start after you’ve had PD for many years, most people will achieve results. Those include improving motor skills and creating new connection pathways in the brain, improving neuroplasticity.3
This boxing is not fighting; it’s non-contact and thus different than what you see in the ring.4
The exercises combine physical activity and the learning of new skills, requiring the brain to adapt to new challenges and routines. Besides being fun and socially engaging, some of the reported benefits include increased independence and confidence as well as physical improvements.
Remember, it is always best to check with your neurologist before beginning any new program, especially one that involves intense exercise.
RSB trainers understand PD
RSB instructors are trained exercise professionals with deep knowledge of Parkinson’s disease. They work on specific skills to improve footwork, coordination, and strength. They understand the hesitation some participants feel. They understand the limitations some people may have when they start, but as a coach they reinforce the positivity of commitment. Stretching, building strength, and agility all help with motor control and building new brain connections can help to slow the progression of PD.
An RSB program may already be in a location near you. The website www.rocksteadyboxing.org lists locations for classes and coaching clinics.3
The RSB logo is the Statue of Liberty embellished with a boxing glove. RSB’s founder Steve Newman has said, that the inscription on the Statue of Liberty combined with the hope she symbolizes echoed his dream that Rock Steady Boxing would be a beacon of light and hope for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease.3