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Giving Parkinson’s Disease the K.O.

Stop by Lexington’s Title Boxing Club any day of the week and you can expect to see a class of all ages and all levels working off the calories by pounding into a punching bag. But, if you happen to stop by during a Rock Steady Boxing class, you’ll find that the members of the class aren’t just beating fat; they’re also working to beat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder, known by most people for the tremors it causes. It develops gradually, perhaps with a minor shake in one hand. Over time, the patient experiences greater tremors, stiffness, slowed movement, and sometimes slurred speech. Simple motion tasks may become more difficult; stiffer muscles may cause pain; some movements we typically take for granted such as blinking or swinging your arms while walking are less automated. There is no cure for Parkinson’s but some medications can help to improve symptoms and slow decline, and now studies show that some forms of exercise can also help – Rock Steady Boxing, for example.

Rock Steady Boxing is the only boxing program in the nation that is specifically aimed at people with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. It originated in Indiana in 2006. Parkinson’s most commonly affects people over the age of 50, although as we know from reading about celebrity Michael J. Fox, symptoms can develop at an earlier age. Indiana attorney, Scott C. Newman, was one such diagnosis. Aged just 41 when doctors told him he had Parkinson’s, Newman began an intensive boxing training program to help maintain agility and muscle strength. He hired professional boxer Kristy Rose Follmar and together they developed the Rock Steady Boxing program. Thanks to several grants, the program was able to grow, offering a training program for coaches, and becoming recognized by medical professionals for its benefits.

Local classes began in January of this year at Title Boxing Club. In 2013, a new member of the club, recently diagnosed as having Stage 1 Parkinson’s, approached the management with information about the Rock Steady Boxing program. Intrigued by its benefits, club owners Chris and Kim Campbell did some more research and decided this was something they should offer. Head trainer Josh Harper trained as a certified RSB coach, and began offering classes.

The non-contact classes are open to men and women, regardless of previous boxing experience. Josh first meets with class applicants to assess how advanced their disease is by means of a few simple stretching exercises. Most of the current class participants at Title are in Stages 1 and 2, although the classes can accommodate up to Stage 4. Age does not need to be a factor, either; the Indianapolis RSB class includes a feisty 92 year old who goes by the nickname “Killer Bee”.

The 75 minute class is structured to work on strength and balance. The first 20 minutes consists of a warm up with lots of stretching movements. This is followed by 35 to 40 minutes of work at various stations, from calisthenics to jump rope to punching bags. Each exercise is designed to work hand-eye coordination, rhythm, gross motor movement, and balance, all of which can become weaker in Parkinson’s patients.

The class makes no claims to cure Parkinson’s disease, but doctors have noticed that the regular, intense exercise provided in the classes can help to slow the worsening of the condition and can even reverse some symptoms. It also provides a huge confidence boost for those coping with a disease that is a 24-7 battle. Trainer Josh notes the improvement in participants’ posture as they regain strength, something he calls “one of the most rewarding things about my job”.

To learn more about the Rock Steady Boxing class for people with Parkinson’s disease, visit

http://www.rocksteadyboxing.org/programs/parkinsons-class/.

Title Boxing Club is located at 171 Lowry Lane, Lexington. To learn more about their classes, including Rock Steady Boxing, visit http://lexington-lowry.titleboxingclub.com/ or call (859) 554-1470.

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