Senior Wire News Service HEALTH June 2016
A Healthy Age
By Amy Abbott
Regular exercise in this manner may, according to RSB, improve range of motion, flexibility, posture, gait, and activities of daily living. A study from Cleveland Clinic even suggests that intense forced exercise may slow disease progression, as well as ease symptoms.
A new approach to an old disease has eased symptoms for hundreds if not thousands of individuals with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Rock Steady Boxing, which empowers individuals to “fight back” against PD, started in Indianapolis, Indiana, almost by accident.
Today the program reaches worldwide and offers hope and symptom relief to those with Parkinson’s and their families.
Scott Newman, a prosecutor for Marion County, Indiana, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 39. This popular public figure lost his balance, shook with tremors, and experienced a rapid deterioration of his health.
His handwriting worsened, and soon he could not sign his name, let alone the court orders germane to his prominent position in the court. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease of the nervous system that adversely affects movement. The National Parkinson’s Foundation states that the average age of onset is 62. About 15% of all diagnoses are in the young-onset group which consists of those diagnosed with the disease before age 50. Despite his worsening condition, Newman started a group called Young Parkinson’s of Indiana.
A friend observed his continued deterioration, and told him, “I’ve been a Golden Gloves boxer. Why don’t you let me teach you to box?” Newman felt he had nothing to lose. He allowed his friend to hang a bag in the Newman basement. The friend coached him in non-contact training, in the same manner as a boxer drills to fight an opponent. Within a few months of punching, stretching, and working the professional boxing routine, Newman noticed his symptoms easing.
What Newman’s friend did for and with him is quite remarkable. “Rocky” metaphors aside, think of the rigorous training a young, healthy boxer undertakes before a big match. RSB uses the boxer’s playbook for intense “forced” exercise emphasizing gross motor movement, balance and agility, core strength, rhythm, and hand-eye coordination. There is some adjustment for the age and physicality of the participant.
Anyone familiar with sports knows that boxing requires a synchronicity of purpose. Watching an excellent and famous boxer is almost like observing a great ballet dancer. The training regimen weaves multiple physical elements together to achieve a perfect grace and agility. Think about the muscular and hand-eye coordination needed to beat a punching bag or a moving opponent. This type of intense forced exercise makes sense to me, a non-clinician because I understand the results. Regular exercise in this manner may, according to RSB, improve range of motion, flexibility, posture, gait, and activities of daily living. A study from Cleveland Clinic even suggests that intense forced exercise may slow disease progression, as well as ease symptoms.
Newman’s Young Parkinson’s of Indiana group witnessed his remarkable progress. Club members wanted to do whatever Newman was doing for such results. He started a small class.
One evening Newman and friends enjoyed dinner. Newman held out his arms and said, “Look, no tremors. I’m rock steady.”
Newman had no idea what his off-the-cuff statement about his new exercise regimen would become. That was 2006. Today, Rock Steady Boxing is a global movement in 30 states, Canada, Italy, and Australia.
According to Rock Steading Boxing’s (RSB) executive director Joyce Johnson, “When I arrived in June 2011, we were the only Rock Steady Boxing in the country,” she said. “We received media attention because boxing and PD are so incongruous that we got much coverage. We had many national news stories. Moreover, we got calls from all over the country and the world about communities that wanted this program.
“I had to tell them that Indy was the only one.”
With the clamor for help from PD patients, RSB developed a training manual and a training camp – the boxing term for the seminar.
“We bring people in from other communities, teach them the basics about PD, the basics of boxing, and why boxing works for symptom relief,” she said.
In 2012, there were several RSB groups outside of Indianapolis. By the end of 2013, there was a dozen. Johnson added, “Because we are a local, non-profit, we’ve grown primarily by word of mouth, through people diagnosed with PD.”
After the group’s initial growth spurt, Leslie Stahl of “CBS News” did a piece on RSB in 2015. Stahl’s husband, Aaron Latham has PD and boxes at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, New York. “Boxing is just the opposite of Parkinson’s,” Latham told “CBS News.” Instead of trying to shrink you, everything is designed to pump you up. First of all, you get to put on these great gloves. It gives you enormous, giant hands and a different attitude toward the world. You get your physical courage back, and your mental courage seems to kinda come along.”
“The floodgates opened after the CBS story,” said Johnson, “Five hundred people signed up for training camp this year.”
Johnson, who had a family member with PD, shared the organization’s dream. “We hope that when a person is diagnosed with PD, their neurologist can tell them about a gym around the corner that offers our program.”
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