Healthy Living

Literally Fighting Parkinson's: Fitness Program Focuses on Boxing to Alleviate Symptoms

Literally Fighting Parkinson's: Fitness Program Focuses on Boxing to Alleviate Symptoms

Photo Source: Rock Steady Boxing.

“Exercise is good for the brain” is a statement largely supported by scientists, physicians, researchers and all kinds of experts in the field of neurology. Some of the benefits the brain can receive from regular exercise are:

  • Increase of cognitive flexibility
  • Strengthening of long-term and short-term memory
  • Stress relief
  • Lowers risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s

The list of benefits regular exercise provides to human brain goes on and on. For instance, aerobic exercise has demonstrated to have good effects on the hippocampus which is located at the core of the brain and is the one in charge of the systems for learning and memorizing processes.

Parkinson’s and boxing: a dramatic relationship

Nevertheless, high-impact exercise and brain health have never gotten along very well from a scientific standpoint. In the past decade, studies held in Pittsburgh unveiled how an impressive amount of football players became mentally ill after their retirement due to damage brain caused by concussions during their career.

Such is the case with boxing. One of the most noticeable events in the past decades related to brain health and boxing was when Muhammad Ali started suffering from Parkinson’s. Many doctors stand by the argument that the boxing legend receiving too many punches in boxing matches he disputed (he even used to urge rivals to hit him as a way to show off) had affected his brain cortex, and subsequently, his nervous system.

However, today’s reality is that a non-profit fitness program uses this ancient discipline with the sole purpose of helping people with Parkinson’s reduce its symptoms. Apparently, common symptoms such as tremor, rigid muscles, speech changes, slowed movement and many others can be diminished by boxing.

Even though the reason Parkinson’s appears in the first place is still unknown, some of the suspected reasons are: heritage, pollution and the aging process. Actually, Parkinson’s is primarily considered a motor disorder, but it also causes non-motor symptoms that are usually ignored by patients. Great examples are the results shown in most recent researches, with issues such as inability to perceive colors, changes in their visual acuity and others being a common symptom among people with Parkinson’s.

Avant-garde medical practices

As there’s no medication that can disappear the condition permanently, constant research and development have led to the creation of innovative and imaginative methods that may help lesser the effect of this condition. Any people with any kind of Parkinson’s at any level can ease their symptoms and have a better quality of life by practicing an exercise routine that actually helps with their condition. It’s important to know this since about 1.5 million people suffer from this illness only in the U.S, the country with most obesity in the world.

The question of “How could it be possible to use such a violent discipline to treat human brains?” arises the very instant someone receives information about this innovative method, especially after being demonstrated that strong hits can damage brain’s cortex irreversibly. But the answer is that no contact is implied in Rock Steady’s routines. The movements are the same as in professional boxing but there aren’t any impacts or real hitting.

Knowing how demanding boxing is (actually the most demanding sport discipline), the production of stamina, fat loss, endurance and cardiovascular condition levels skyrocket. The point where boxing and parkinson’s avant-garde treatments coincide is that boxers and people affected by Parkinson’s look forward to improving the same motor skill: the hand-eye coordination for fast and controlled movements.

The Rock Steady program

Boxing makes participants move their bodies in all directions possible, the routines don’t need to be limited to one course of movement, as it happens with many other aerobic exercises. The Rock Steady program may become a trend among people with Parkinson's who have always deeply wished of becoming the next Mayweather. Although the program focuses on the elderly because it’s the range of age most people affected by Parkinson’s are in, anyone can enroll the program. Rock Steady is not a new company in the fitness business. Founded in 2006 by Marion Newman, a person suffering from Parkinson’s disease by the age of only 40. Now he dedicates his efforts to help others with his same motor condition, encouraging them to use exercise as a vehicle to progressive recovery and slow down the effects of Parkinson’s, avoiding uncontrollable trembling.

Other symptoms such as muscle stiffness, balance loss and cognitive deterioration also mellow. Mood improves when people see that physical activity is having a good effect in their condition and they start having a more proactive routine.

Regarding the staff that encompasses the program, there are some professional profiles such as Kristy Follarm who is a professional boxer and Christine Timberlake who is a certified personal trainer. Seemingly, Timberlake’s husband, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2002, never liked sports until he was invited to Rock Steady by his wife. She says that she’s seen an improvement in his condition, his body, his mind and his attitude.

Acceptance and future of alternative treatments

What can be called “alternative treatments” are not new in the field of brain illnesses. A study held in the University McGill from Canada showed that caffeine reduces motor issues in people with Parkinson. Caffeine is thought to be a natural neurological protector. Also, Vitamin K2 helps transport mitochondrion and electrons which are very important to keep neurons alive. Among the food rich in this vitamin we can find: basil, dried thyme, sage, watercress, spinach, beet, Swiss chard, broccoli leaves, lettuce, chives, Brussels sprouts and condiments such as curry, chili, peppermint and paprika; for something sweeter, raisins have been found to be very rich in K2.

The effectiveness and acceptance of these methods within the community of people with Parkinson’s and doctors devoted to the study of this condition will increase as time goes by if results keep showing up. Studies will now focus on the chemicals secreted when doing exercise such as endorphins which have been recognized as excellent stress relievers. Serotonin, which is another neurochemical secreted during exercise is known to be a natural mood enhancer, this is the reason people diagnosed with depression are told to do exercise, it also reduces risk for heart disease.

Rock Steady’s pioneering method can mean an evolution into the approaches used to counter brain illnesses, looking for more natural treatments focusing physical stimulation as a way to improve from traditional medication treatments. Avoiding invasive chemical treatments can uncover a wide range of different strategies having a healthy lifestyle, going on diets and regular exercise as a basis. For instance, it’s been stated that exercise triggers brain cells growth resulting in a better performance on complex recall tasks.

Participants have accepted the method and spread the word on the good outcome they’ve experience as well as the amelioration of common symptoms. Another aspect people praise about Rock Steady is the camaraderie and spirit of teamwork that builds up within the participants. People with the same condition who decided not to surrender upon life eventualities. It’s quite surprising how the condition itself is left out of the picture as participants focus more in their exercise routine and usual topics for conversation.