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Boxers With Parkinson’s Disease

Get Fit With : Boxing Helps Parkinsons Patients

Patients use boxing to fight Parkinson’s disease

WILMINGTON, N.C. – There are more than 36,000 people in North and South Carolina with Parkinsons disease. Parkinsons disease is a chronic and progressive brain disease resulting from the malfunction and death of vital cells in the brain, known as neurons. The neurons are in a part of the brain that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. The most noticeable symptoms are shaking and tremors.

A national gym called Rock Steady Boxing specializes in classes for Parkinsons patients.

Where boxing comes in to hit Parkinsons at its weakest points, your hand eye coordination, your balance, strength and conditioning, stretching and the comradery is really a big thing for our group, said Val Von Rupp, Rock Steady Boxing.

There are two locations in Wilmington.

We hit bags, we have a good time, we listen to music. The music is loud and were either playing trivia or cracking jokes or riddles or something to where everyone is having a good time and can kind of forget it for an hour, said Von Rupp.

Students like Joan Horton agree. Shes had Parkinsons for eight years. She was intimidated to attend class at first but once she did she was hooked. She has been attending the Rock Steady Boxing center in Wilmington for two years. It helps her improve her balance and the tremors in her hands. The more aware you are of it the more you can fight it or resist it, said Joan Horton, Parkinsons patient.

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Can Boxing Cause Parkinson Disease

To date, neuroscientists cant conclude whether boxing directly causes Parkinsons disease or not. But some of them believe boxing can trigger brain injury, which heightens the risk of developing this brain disorder.

To illustrate, in 2006, Dr. Samuel Goldman conducted a study involving 93 pairs of twins. Only one person had Parkinsons in each pair, and Dr. Goldman examined the differences between them to discover what set off this unfortunate brain condition.

According to him, one head injury can increase the likelihood of developing Parkinsons. The probability is even higher among those who sustained more than two episodes of brain damage.

Watch this video to hear Dr. Goldmans in-depth explanation:

That being said, correlation is not causation. There seems to be an association between boxing with diagnoses of Parkinsons disease, but neurologists have yet to identify the exact physiological mechanisms behind this condition. Therefore, no one knows for sure if this brain disorder is boxings occupational hazard.

Exercise Programs Incorporating Boxing Skills May Help Manage Symptoms Of Parkinson’s Disease Here’s How They Work

When Preston Moon was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 53 in 2008, he never dreamed he’d be bobbing and weaving in a boxing gym or pounding punching bags one year later. After learning that the condition would progressively impair his motor function due to a loss of brain cells that produce the chemical messenger dopamine, he thought he had little to look forward to but a steady decline. Then, in 2009, his next-door neighbor in Indianapolis mentioned Rock Steady Boxing, a local nonprofit program she’d attended that used boxing to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Moon was skeptical. “I’m a retired Army sergeant first class, and physical training was something I did but didn’t necessarily enjoy,” he says. “The last thing I wanted to do was work out again.” But with little to lose, he decided to check out the program. What he saw at the gym was surprising: People were punching small speed bags and large heavy bags, doing footwork and balance exercises, and performing calisthenics. “It was people of all ages, male and female, and they wereexcuse my Frenchgoing balls to the wall,” Moon says. “I thought, ‘These guys have Parkinson’s?’ It changed my attitude immediately.”

Growing Strong


Training Coaches

Making Assessments


Tailoring Workouts

Specific Moves for Specific Symptoms


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Overview Of Parkinsons Disease

Parkinsons disease is a brain disorder that adversely affects patients physical movement. The most common motor manifestations of this chronic brain condition are:

  • Trembling
  • Rigidity in hands, arms, and legs
  • Poor balance
  • Impaired limb coordination

This neurodegenerative disorder can also manifest itself in other symptoms, including difficulty with speaking, handwriting, swallowing, or decreased facial expression.

This is a progressive disease, meaning that it often exacerbates over time. If left unchecked, Parkinsons usually gives rise to severe tremors, slowness, and stiffness in moving, all of which can result in falls, and unfortunately, fatalities. In other cases, patients are either bedridden or confined to their wheelchairs.

Parkinsons disease happens when specific brain neurons, especially those responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine, fail to function properly and disappear. As the level of dopamine plummets, it disrupts neurological activity and, consequently, interferes with patients physical activities.

Rock Steady Boxing In The Medical Literature

Boxers Take Aim at Parkinsons Disease

Although there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that promotes Rock Steady Boxing, there have only been two small trials that sought to examine the clinical benefits of Rock Steady Boxing. In one study, 31 people with PD were assigned to either a boxing exercise training or traditional exercise for 24-36 sessions, each lasting 90 minutes over 12 weeks. Participants were tested before and after completion of training on measures of balance, balance confidence, mobility, gait velocity, gait endurance, and quality of life. Although the researchers state that their original hypothesis was that boxing would lead to greater improvements than traditional exercise, the study did not bear that out. Both groups demonstrated gains on multiple measures. No outcome measure demonstrated a significant difference between groups except for balance confidence which favored the traditional exercise group. Despite the fact that boxing was not shown to be better than traditional exercise, it did improve important measures of fitness.

In a second trial, six people with PD attended 24-36 boxing training sessions, each lasting 90 minutes over 12 weeks. Outcome measures of balance, mobility and quality of life were assessed at 12, 24, and 36 weeks. Each of the participants showed improvement on at least five of the 12 outcome measures at 12 weeks, which was sustained at 24 and 36 weeks.

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Boxing Can Injure You

Boxing is a unique sport. The main goal here is to injure your opponent. Unfortunately, the injury can lead to brain damage, especially if the match results in a knockout.

Because boxing can often lead to brain damage, the American Academy of Neurology called for the abolition of boxing as a sport. The organization called it obscenity.

Unfortunately, boxing is a lucrative job. Many boxers, like Muhammad Ali, Mayweather, and Pacquiao, earned millions of dollars every game.

Even the greatest boxers are not immune to head injuries.

What Is The Ultimate Cause Of Parkinsons Disease

Unfortunately, the root causes of Parkinsons and many other degenerative brain disorders remain unknown. However, it is currently thought that the interaction between genetic and environmental factors can set the stage for this syndrome.

Some people are genetically predisposed to Parkinsons, regardless of whether they practice boxing or not.

In addition, poisonous chemicals, including iron and lead, are believed to make senior citizens more vulnerable to Parkinsons disease, although results from neurological studies remain inconclusive.

Rural dwellers, especially farmers, can also be prone to this chronic brain condition due to their cumulative exposure to herbicides and insecticides, which are loaded with potentially harmful synthetic chemicals. But again, the scientific evidence is not robust enough to back up this claim.

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We Asked Our Experts About The Effects Rock Steady Boxing Has On Parkinsons

Despite limited clinical evidence, this program is tremendously popular and we get asked about it often. We aimed to find out more about Rock Steady Boxing by talking with two experts on this subject from the APDA community, Dr. Adena Leder and Dr. Terry Ellis. While the two have somewhat different outlooks, there is valuable insight to be gleaned from their unique perspectives.

Dr. Adena Leder is the Medical Director of the Adele Smithers Parkinsons Center, and Associate Professor, New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is the Medical Director of the Nassau County APDA Information and Referral Center, based at NYIT. Dr. Leder is also a trained Rock Steady Boxing instructor.

Dr. Terry Ellis is an Associate Professor at Boston University, College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy & Athletic Training. Dr. Ellis is also the Director of the Center for Neurorehabilitation at Boston University and the Director of the APDA National Rehabilitation Resource Center housed at Boston University.

We asked Dr. Leder and Dr. Ellis their thoughts on Rock Steady Boxing.

Bob Hoskins: Retirement With Parkinson’s

Generous donation helps with boxer fighting Parkinson’s Disease

A British actor best known for his award-winning turn in the 1982 film The Long Good Friday and for his voiceover in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Bob Hoskins announced that having Parkinson’s disease forced him into retirement in 2012. He was quite private about the details of his diagnosis, but in a 2012 interview with Saga Magazine, he said, “I’m trying to retire. I’m not doing very well at it, though.” When he did retire, he announced that he would be focusing on living a healthier lifestyle after leaving the acting profession.

Hoskins died in April 2014 at age 71.

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Retired Nba Power Forward Brian Grant Isnt The Only Famous Athlete With Parkinsons Here Are 10 More Sports Superstars Diagnosed With The Disease

NBA legend Brian Grant retired from professional basketball in 2006 after a 12-year career playing for the Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns.

Two years later, at the age of 36, he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinsons disease. This motivated him to launch the Brian Grant Foundation, which provides educational tools to help people with Parkinsons lead active, fulfilling lives.

But, as most of us know, Grant isnt the only sports superstar to power through the disease. Here are 10 more legendary athletes with Parkinsons.

Boxing Therapy Improves Mobility

Another thing youll notice about the most effective boxers is that they rarely stand still. The reason for this is simple moving targets are harder to hit. Of course, boxing therapy for Parkinsons isnt about dodging incoming jabs, its about practicing mobility by stepping in multiple directions, changing speeds and staying light on your toes.

How does it work? Parkinsons attacks both our mobility and agility two traits boxers work to improve through their training routines. Boxing therapy for Parkinsons is specifically designed to help strengthen these abilities.

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Have You Tried Boxing Yet

If you havent, then you might want to start training now. Its worth the shot.

You can use boxing as a way to relieve stress. Every time you throw punches at a heavy bag, you are punching away the things that have been stressing you out.

However, you might want to avoid boxing as a sport. That is if you dont want to sustain a head injury that may lead to Parkinsons disease.

Brian Grant: Staying Positive With Parkinson’s

Boxers knock out Parkinson

Brian Grant spent 12 seasons as a National Basketball Association player, playing for the Sacramento Kings, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Phoenix Suns. As an NBA player, he was known for his positive team commitment as well as his work with disadvantaged children. According to an interview with ESPN, he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease in January 2009, following his retirement from professional basketball. He went on to found the Brian Grant Foundation, which is dedicated to raising awareness and inspiring those living with Parkinson’s disease to include exercise as medicine.

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Ben Petrick: The Major League With Parkinson’s

Ben Petrick dreamed of a stellar baseball career as a catcher with the Colorado Rockies. He played in 240 Major League games, the majority of which came after Parkinson’s disease struck him at age 22 in 2000. He retired from baseball in 2004.

He’s since authored Forty Thousand to One, a book whose title in part references the 40,000 Americans diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year. The book also recounts his experiences in Major League Baseball while coping with Parkinson’s disease. According to an ESPN interview, Petrick’s father was also diagnosed with the condition but maintains a positive attitude, saying that although he has Parkinson’s, Parkinson’s doesn’t have him.

Q: How Did You First Become Involved In Rock Steady Boxing

Dr. Leder: I am a movement disorder specialist and I primarily see patients. During my fellowship I became aware of the positive effects that exercise has on the PD population. During many years in private practice, it became apparent that insurance, including Medicare, does not cover enough physical therapy to actually help a PD patient throughout the year. For years I was trying to determine how to deliver an exercise program to the PD population that would be affordable and accessible to all. I first learned about Rock Steady Boxing from a 60 Minutes segment with Leslie Stahl and I knew right away that it was the program I needed to start in my community.

I became certified as a Rock Steady Boxing expert by taking a three-day course at the Rock Steady Boxing boot camp. When we started the program at NYIT, I personally ran some of the classes. I no longer actually run the classes because I have handpicked fitness professionals who can perform the job better than I can, and I continue to oversee, organize, help and supervise the program. The unique aspect of having the program at the university is that we accept donations and grants and therefore we can offer scholarships to boxers who are unable to pay for the class. No one is turned away for financial reasons.

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Parkinsons Patients Fight Back In Rock Steady Boxing Program

Three times a week, Susan Vittone, a 5-foot-4 former kindergarten teacher, makes the 45-mile trek from her home in Mexico, Mo., to Columbia for a workout class. Unlike most women her age, Susans workout includes lacing up a pair of gloves and whacking a heavy bag suspended from the ceiling in MU Health Cares Human Performance Institute .

I never thought I would ever be boxing, she said with a laugh. I am not sure if my mother would approve.

But Vittone knows her mother would be in her corner knowing the critical link between boxing and her good health.

Vittone was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease in December 2015. She described her initial reaction as devastation. A friend suggested that she watch a video about a specialized workout called Rock Steady Boxing. Her neurologist said she should give it a try.

The benefits have been invaluable for Vittone, who credits the program for keeping her symptoms at bay.

The class begins like any other workout for a mature group, with warmups that focus on balance and agility. Then, its time to box. The participants dont hit each other. They pound heavy bags and the smaller speed bags.

1, 2, 3 2, 3, 4.

The trainer yells numbers that correlate to punches a jab, hook or uppercut, thrown with the right or left hand. Then, with loud voices, the group repeats the numbers. Its an effort to keep the brain active while making large movements. The yelling is therapy, too.

What Is Rock Steady Boxing

Fighting Parkinson’s with Boxing

Rock Steady Boxing is a boxing program designed for people with PD, based on exercises that are adapted from the world of boxing that emphasize agility, speed, endurance, accuracy, hand-eye coordination, footwork and strength. The exercises are meant to be vigorous and to push the participants beyond what they perceive they are capable of performing. Various levels of training have been developed to meet the needs of people with PD at different stages of the disease. Started at a gym in Indiana in 2006, Rock Steady Boxing developed a system to train fitness instructors across the country and now operates out of more than 870 affiliate locations worldwide. Those interested undergo a two-part Affiliate Training Camp an online course, followed by an interactive in-person or virtual-based hands-on training. Trained personnel can then set up an affiliate Rock Steady Boxing program.

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The Rock Steady Boxing Solution

Various studies in the 1980s and 1990s supported the notion that rigorous exercise, emphasizing gross motor movement, balance, core strength, and rhythm, could favorably impact range of motion, flexibility, posture, gait, and activities of daily living. More recent studies, most notably at Cleveland Clinic, focus on the concept of intense forced exercise, and have begun to suggest that certain kinds of exercise may be neuro-protective, i.e., actually slowing disease progression. Our clients attest, and academic institutions, such as University of Indianapolis and Butler University, are reporting and documenting the improved quality of life among our boxers. Discovery of a cure may be many years away but in the last seven years, there is evidence that progress is made in all stages of the disease by those participating in the RSB program.

Senior Star: In Your Corner For The Fight Against Parkinsons

Some Senior Star communities offer a program called Rock Steady Boxing. This non-contact physical therapy class is specifically designed to help people living with Parkinsons disease. Jessie Ritter, the program director at Senior Star Dublin, teaches seniors with the disease a new way to fight back. Since the program began, Jessie has witnessed the neuroprotective benefits of boxing therapy first hand. She has seen people in their 90s feel stronger and more empowered as a direct result of their participation in the Rock Steady Boxing class.

At Senior Star, Rock Steady Boxing is just one of the many ways were determined to offer seniors a variety of innovative opportunities to support holistic health and overall well-being. We call them our Signature Programs, and were positive youll find something that inspires you. Contact us today for more information or learn more about the vibrant lifestyle options we offer.

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