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 in the East Bay 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
“I can feel the difference already,” says Joanne, who has worked out at Rock Steady Boxing in Concord for one month. “I’m not as fatigued. I can get up out of a chair easier. And my anxiety is way down.”
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 Concord, everyone gathers in a circle at the beginning of class to share something about themselves. Today’s theme is “your favorite smell.” “Steak,” says one man. “Popcorn,” says another. 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.
“It’s a big family,” says Concord trainer Chelsea Lewis. “Everyone helps each other.”
Then she starts yelling. “Rock! Steady! Ready!”
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!”
The yelling continues as the class pairs off to practice some combinations. “Left, left, right! Right, right, left!” One partner holds the bag as the other yells and throws punches.
“It’s challenging—we’re learning actual boxing techniques,” says Linda. “I thought I couldn’t do it, but Chelsea pushes me, and I realize I can.”
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!
Parkinson’s Therapy Boxing Feels Good
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.”
At Rock Steady Boxing Concord, all newcomers receive a free 45-minute assessment. Visit concord.rsbaffiliate.com for rates, class schedule, and other information. Or explore other Rock Steady Boxing locations in the East Bay.
Want to hit the gym 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.
Honor provides personalized home care to support families with Parkinson’s. Learn more here.