Senior woman boxing

Punching out Parkinson’s: The Benefits of Boxing Therapy

When you’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, there are drugs you can take to alleviate early symptoms, and they work pretty well. But they don’t slow the progression of the disease. The only prescription shown to delay the disease’s progress is exercise — the more intense, the better.

How Boxing Keeps Parkinson’s on the Ropes

Studies suggest that vigorous exercise may slow the progression of Parkinson’s. And few exercise programs work you harder than a Parkinson’s boxing program. 

“My future prognosis depends on how hard I push myself,” says one participant in Rock Steady Boxing, “and that’s very motivating.”  

Rock Steady Boxing is the best-known Parkinson’s boxing program in the country. It was founded by Scott Newman, a former prosecutor who developed Parkinson’s at age 40. He reported significant improvements in his physical health, agility, daily functioning and quality of life shortly after he began high-energy workouts doing boxing moves a few years after his diagnosis.

The Sweet Science of Boxing and the Brain

Parkinson’s destroys brain cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter. In effect, the disease interferes with your brain’s ability to send signals that direct movement. The result is body tremors, slowness of movement, rigidity, poor balance and coordination. Intense exercise helps prevent the destruction of the brain’s dopamine-producing cells. A Parkinson’s boxing program — bobbing, weaving, jabbing, and punching with everything you’ve got — prevents brain damage and strengthens almost all the areas the disease weakens.

Boxing for Parkinson’s: A Total Workout From Head to Toe

Hitting heavy bags builds power and strength. Punching speed bags improves hand-eye coordination and posture. Doing footwork drills improve balance and agility. Tossing medicine balls (or beach balls) improves reaction time. 

Other intense exercise activities like running on a treadmill or cycling (especially on a tandem) have been shown to slow the progression of Parkinson’s. But running on a treadmill or cycling won’t do much for your upper body strength, agility, or coordination. And neither have the cool factor going to a boxing class confers.

Put the Support of Peers in Your Corner

One of the added benefits of taking boxing classes for Parkinson’s is the people you’ll meet. They understand what you’re going through and can be your biggest supporters. As one 71-year-old Rock Steady participant puts it: “I no longer feel like the incredible shrinking woman PD seems to be trying to make of me. I feel gritty, tough, very much alive and, to quote Coach Steve, ‘like one badass mofo.’”

To learn about boxing classes at Brandon Wilde, and all the other ways we help residents stay fighting fit, check out our Wellness Program.