How a boxing class is helping those with Parkinson’s Disease

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Rock Steady Boxing has been around for almost 20 years, with over 900 affiliates serving 34,000 people with Parkinson’s Disease.

Five years ago, the program was brought here to Huntsville after the fitness director at the Huntsville Madison Senior Center, Carolyn Rhodes’ husband was diagnosed with the disease.

Since then, the facility has assessed over 400 boxers and is currently serving 150 active boxers.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra.

Rhodes’ husband has not fallen since he’s started boxing and now is a coach at the facility. Rhodes says it would be great to start early on in the diagnosis, but they do have people that are in advanced stages. “We have people who are in wheelchairs or can’t stand, but they can still hit.”

What is it about boxing that makes it so affective?

“The forced intense explosiveness of boxing helps with neuroprotection,” said Rhodes. This can be seen as a preventative measure.

“My husband’s doctor now does boxing because of what he learned,” said Rhodes. “‘If it’s neuroprotective I’m doing it.’”

When it comes to the disease, many people are familiar with the tremors, but it’s not just tremors. Parkinson’s affects the whole body and Rock Steady Boxing can help out with that.

“When they workout really really hard, it more or less takes up all of their dopamine. They might have more of a tremor for a few minutes, but later on, they’re going to calm down,” Rhodes says.

Classes are made up of a comprehensive curriculum, they last for 90 minutes and aren’t just boxing. Rhodes says that not only do they work on strength, posture, speech and dexterity exercises but one of the main things they focus on is intention.

“They have to be intentional to take a big step, to move their arms, to speak loudly. If you’re relaxed, you’re not going to be intentional. So we try to help them with that, to be intentional,” Rhodes added that things like speech and writing start to get small, so things that come naturally to other, now have to be more intentional.

Rock Steady is a community Rhodes says. “Parkinson’s is a lonely disease and they do feel like they’re the only one in the world with it. Now they come together and they’re like, ‘Hey, he can do this and she can do this, so I can do that too,’ and they all lean on each other.”

Statistically, men are 1.5 times more likely to get the disease, but Rhodes says at one point they did have 25 women in the facility. Approximately 60,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year and over 10 million worldwide are living with it.



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