Just as exercise is touted to be beneficial for young and old alike, it has also been proven to be especially beneficial to those with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). This neurodegenerative brain disease is characterized by various movement disorders including tremors, rigidity, stiffness, slowness of movement, poor balance, stooped posture, a shuffling gait and periodic freezing.
The Parkinson’s Foundation specifically recommends at least 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise per week, which can improve balance, flexibility and inflammation. It has also been shown to improve neuroplasticity, the brain’s own way to adapt to changes. 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 mastering puzzles, are all techniques used by those who are aging, as well as those with neurological conditions like Parkinson’s.
Forced Intense Exercise is proven to be the best way to slow PD symptom progression and create these new pathways to the brain. Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) is a perfect example of this prescribed intense movement. It is a non-contact fitness program designed specifically for people with PD. 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.
Why boxing? According to RSB national headquarters, “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.” Besides being fun and socially engaging, the program has other reported benefits including increased independence and confidence as well as the many physical improvements. By the way, the RSB logo of the Statue of Liberty embellished with a boxing glove, was RSB’s founder (Steve Newman) idea: “The inscription on the statue combined with the hope she symbolizes echoed his dream that Rock Steady Boxing would be the beacon of light and hope for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease.”
In order to bring this awesome program to the shore, a partnership was formed between the YMCA of the Chesapeake (Wendy Palmer, YMCA Associate Executive Director); 360 Strong (Lynn Sutton, Owner and RSB Coach); Maryland Assoc. for Parkinson’s Support & the Wells Foundation (coordinator Jack Harrald) and Bayleigh Chase-Acts Retirement Community (Me-Susan Covey, Fitness Director and RSB Coach). Our group created two Rock Steady Boxing classes offered live pre-COVID at the Y@Washington St. and in Grasonville. We are currently hosting our classes on Zoom, free of charge to participants twice a week!
Those of us who have become coaches are trained professionals with a clear understanding of PD. We work with our boxers on specific skills to improve footwork, coordination and strength. We understand the hesitation some participants may feel and the limitations before beginning a workout program. But, as coaches, we stress the positivity of commitment and emphasize how stretching, strength building and agility all help with motor control and with building those new brain connections to help slow the disease progression.
Personally speaking, as one of the coaches for our local RSB class, I can think of an endless number of adjectives to describe my boxers, my everyday heroes… those who deal with the degenerative disorder of Parkinson’s Disease. Here are just a few: strong, focused, tenacious, dedicated, supportive, positive, hopeful and fun-loving!
If you are living with Parkinson’s Disease and are looking for a program which addresses all facets of exercise, that will give you social interaction (yes, even on Zoom!), teach you to walk better, fall better, get up and down more safely, increase your body’s rotational abilities, help with your voice activation and give you an opportunity to punch out Parkinson’s and have fun doing it, RSB is the answer! Please contact feel free to contact me at [email protected] for more information.
Susan Covey is the Rock Steady Boxing Coach and Fitness Director for Bayleigh Chase, an Acts Retirement Community.