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Power punch aims to slow Parkinson’s

One of the more interesting stories I have recently covered for our sister newspaper, the Steele County Times, is how boxing is aiming to slow Parkinson’s disease.
I featured a group of Parkinson’s patients and in many cases their spouses who have taken up boxing and other fitness at the Owatonna Fitness Center twice a week. They are fighters, just not in the boxing ring where most boxers throw their punches.
They come together for a series of fitness exercises highlighted by a round of boxing. They’re not boxing with each other, but rather punching bags. About a dozen patients and their spouses come together for a mass workout. The oldest patient is 92 years old. They just started this back in April. It’s appropriately named, “Punch Class for Parkinson’s.”
For many years, there has been widespread speculation that boxing caused or contributed to the late heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali’s long battle with Parkinson’s disease. After all, head trauma is known to increase the risk of Parkinson’s, a chronic and progressive disorder that affects an estimated 7 to 10 million people around the world, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
So it may come as a surprise to discover that boxing training is now being used as a form of therapy for people who already have Parkinson’s.
The trend started after former Indiana prosecutor Scott Newman, who was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s at age 40, began training one-on-one with a boxing coach and noticed dramatic improvements in his physical health, agility and daily functioning. In 2006, Newman founded Rock Steady Boxing, a program that uses modified professional boxing techniques to help people with Parkinson’s. Since then, the program has spread across the country.
According to the fitness experts I interviewed, boxing forces the brain to rewire itself. When a person crosses the mid-line, it helps rewire the brain.
Boxing and other fitness exercises help with balance, coordination and memory. They perform various cardiovascular exercises during the 90-minute workout.
Of the workout sessions and boxing, trainer Nicole Hartman told me, “It’s trying to help slow the progression (of the disease) and keeping them stronger. It doesn’t help cure anything, but it slows down the progression of the disease.”
Hartman says the class is “nothing like I have ever seen before.” She always finds the Parkinson’s patients smiling and determined to finish their routines. “It makes my heart so happy every time I walk in the door,” she said. “I think they help me more than I help them.”
In between the punching bags, weights and poles, there is a sign reminding everyone, “Push yourself—no one is going to do it for you.” It seems to be working and providing these fighters with the motivation and inspiration to deliver a knock out blow.
If nothing else, it at least helps with the emotional part of dealing with a progressive nervous system disorder.
Doctors have told Parkinson’s patients to not stop boxing. For many, that’s the only motivation they need to deliver one punch at a time on the fitness floor where everyone is considered a fighter in hopes of punching out Parkinson’s.
In addition to the boxing, there are also some active Parkinson support groups around the region. If anyone is suffering from this disease, I would highly encourage them to reach out for help. As one patient told me, “It’s nice knowing that you’re not alone.”
It’s nice to know there is something available to help slow Parkinson’s. Let’s hope more patients will be able to go in hot pursuit of letting the jabs fly.

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