Rock Steady Boxing: Beating Parkinson’s to the Punch

Jillian Berndtson

| 3 min read

Two heavy weight bags with two boxing participants practicing movement between them
The music is blaring, the energy is high and the class is bouncing in place ready to start their workout. The bell dings and the punches start and this class is fighting hard. Not only are they participating in a serious workout, they’re also fighting Parkinson’s disease.
Rock Steady Boxing is a non-contact boxing program designed specifically for the nearly one million Americans living with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the portion of the brain that controls movement. The disease inhibits messages being sent from the body to the brain, which makes it more difficult to have control of movement. People who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease experience a range of symptoms including loss of balance, deteriorating motor skills, difficulty with speech and impairment of sensory functions.
Max Box Grosse Pointe offers Rock Steady Boxing classes every week. Mac Gallagher, owner of Max Box Grosse Pointe, challenges his class with a variety of exercises. Each class starts and ends with a series of stretches. Some of the routines he uses during the boxing portion include speed bags, heavy bags, footwork designed to increase balance and stamina and even core strength building.
Not only is boxing good for maintaining health, but for Parkinson’s patients in particular, the movements have been found to ease their symptoms and even delay the progress of the disease. Rock Steady participants are challenged with rigorous exercises designed to get their heart rate up and force bilateral communication in the brain. For example, if they are punching with their left hand and stepping with their right foot, both hemispheres of the brain have to communicate with each other. That very communication is what Parkinson’s tries to stop.
Some of Max Box’s Rock Steady class participants are in their 90s and still boxing. Mac has witnessed some of the individuals in his class struggling to walk on their way in. By the time they’ve finished the class they’ve begun walking normally again. These improvements don’t wear off a few hours later, rather, they help to strengthen the area of the brain that is deteriorating due to the Parkinson’s, improving quality of life as a whole.
Beyond the physical benefits of boxing, Rock Steady participants also share a camaraderie within the class, which improves their mental health as well. Having a strong support system and knowing that others understand your struggles helps foster a positive mindset for those living with Parkinson’s. The real goal is to improve their quality of life both mentally and physically.
Rather than throw in the towel to Parkinson’s, patients can beat it to the punch.
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Photo credit: A Healthier Michigan

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