At Honor, we’re always looking for great local resources to help our clients and others facing age-related conditions. Here’s a unique approach to Parkinson’s physical therapy that packs a punch.
Do you get frustrated opening cupboards or using a kitchen knife? Is it hard for you to get up out of a chair? Are you depressed that you can’t walk as easily as you used to?
If you or a loved one on the Peninsula is living with Parkinson’s and suffering from these and other symptoms, there’s a way to fight back—Rock Steady Boxing. That’s right. At a gym near you, people with Parkinson’s are jumping rope, lifting weights, and pummeling punching bags.
Boxing and Parkinson’s are linked in many people’s minds to Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson, who eventually developed Parkinson’s. So it may seem counter-intuitive that boxing will help you, not hurt you. But the non-contact, boxing-inspired fitness routine created by Rock Steady trainers has been shown to help many Parkinson’s patients combat their symptoms and live more independent lives.
Building Stamina and Flexibility
“It’s like two different people,” said Chris, who works out at Rock Steady Boxing in Foster City. “Before, I was stiff and couldn’t move well. Now I have stamina. I can jump. I have confidence.”
It all began in 2006 when Scott Newman, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 40, noticed that his boxing workouts were increasing his agility and overall physical fitness. Inspired to help others, he hired former professional boxer Kristy Rose Follmar as head trainer and began offering Rock Steady Boxing classes to other people living with Parkinson’s in a gym in Indianapolis.
Enthusiasm for the program spread rapidly and ten years later there are Rock Steady Boxing programs all over the country, including 12 in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.
Rock Steady Boxing classes take participants through a well-rounded workout that moves the body in all planes of motion. Classes begin with stretching then move on to core work, calisthenics, weight training and fast-paced routines using rings, jump ropes, frisbees, focus mitts, and other props. Then there’s the boxing itself, where “fighters,” as participants are called, use footwork and punches in combinations to attack a punching bag—and attack the disease.
Studies show that high-intensity or “forced” exercise that incorporates core strengthening, rhythm, and hand-eye coordination helps improve balance, posture, and range of motion—and may help slow the progression of the disease. But the real benefit shows up in your daily life. Doing the activities you love, like fishing or walking or cooking an omelette, is much easier and safer.
Building Community and Friendships
At the Rock Steady gym in Foster City, everyone gathers in a circle at the beginning of a recent class to share a one word that describes themselves. “Stubborn,” says one man. A small woman smiles and says “feisty.” Community building is also an important aspect of Rock Steady, and participants enjoy laughing, getting to know new friends, and sharing information about living with Parkinson’s. The camaraderie is palpable—built up through sweat and the energy of facing common challenges.
“My main focus is to provide a safe place,” says Foster City trainer Freddy Silva.
Then he turns up the volume. “Rock! Steady! Ready!” Silva shouts. The class yells back.
Having a quiet voice is a common symptom of Parkinson’s and it can inhibit people from talking and increase isolation. So the vocal chords get a workout, too.
“Louder! I can’t hear you! Louder!”
Next, it’s time to practice some footwork. Silva tosses rings onto the floor and the fighters begin practicing their combinations, stepping in and out—left, left, right. Right, right, left—in precise movements.
Parkinson’s Physical Therapy with Punch
“You can physically watch their tremors disappear as they exercise,” Silva says.
If you’re thinking right now that Rock Steady Boxing sounds good in theory but can’t possibly be for you because you’re out of shape, feel diminished by having to live with Parkinson’s, and have never put on a boxing glove in your life—you’re in good company!
Rock Steady Boxing fighters range from age 35 to 95, some using canes and walkers, and had to overcome plenty of resistance and fear to put on their sweats and enter a boxing gym.
But once inside, the athletes overflow with enthusiasm. “This makes me feel really good,” said Kate, as she jumps rope at a brisk pace. A former neurology nurse, Kate has had Parkinson’s for several years. Since she started working out with Rock Steady Boxing, she has “less pain in my legs. And I feel stronger, more coordinated. My brain even works better.”
But the real thrill, say Rock Steady fighters, is that you’ll be able to leave your sickness behind.
“We leave Parkinson’s at the door. Here, we’re just working out.”
Rock Steady Boxing Peninsula, $120/month for unlimited classes. Newcomers receive a 90-minute assessment for $50. To learn more and see class schedule, visit rocksteadypeninsula.com. Or explore Rock Steady Boxing locations in Silicon Valley and Union City.
Want a respite break from Parkinson’s but don’t have a ride to Rock Steady Boxing? We can get an Uber or Lyft driver to your home in minutes. Give Honor a call at (877) 777-5116 to set up a transportation account at no charge. Now you don’t need a smartphone for fast reliable rides—you just need Honor. Wherever you’re going, we get you there with care.