‘Knock Out’ Parkinson’s Symptoms
The term “Parkinson’s Disease” most commonly conjures images of tremor, shuffling gait, and rigid movement. Boxing? Probably not! But in the rapidly changing world of rehabilitation, meaningful activity has been linked to managing and coping with otherwise exhausting symptoms.
In recent years, the diversity of treatment for Parkinson’s Disease has grown substantially. Therapeutic and exercise-focused recreational activities tailored for Parkinson’s Disease are increasing nation-wide. Rock Steady, an international boxing program founded in 2006, has made boxing a well-known therapeutic sport for Parkinson’s. Other sports such as Karate, Tai Chi, and hockey are also becoming popular.
These programs not only promote confidence in movement and provide exercise opportunities for those affected, but also greatly reduce the impact of Parkinson’s symptoms. And science backs this up! Rock Steady’s own website displays links to several studies promoting the benefits of exercise to people living with Parkinson’s Disease. A study by Combs, S. et al (2011) focused on the Rock Steady program specifically and found “measurable improvements in gait, balance, and quality of life” following a 12-week course of training. That fact is truly amazing. This is neuroplasticity at its greatest--the brain continues to change and reorganize according to what it experiences, whether environmental or situational.
Clinically, programs such as LSVT BIG and tools such as metronomes use rhythm to help patients focus on gross motor skills and improve movement associated with walking and other daily tasks. Similarly, repetitive punching from boxing provides a strong gross motor movement pattern associated with a rhythm. A metronome gives an auditory cue to assist with maintaining rhythm, as does a coach providing simple instructions for specific arm or leg movements as determined by each sport’s demands.
These sports have the added benefit of intrinsic motivation, or being naturally satisfying, which will also improve an individual’s desire and ability to adhere to a prescribed exercise program. It is difficult enough for anyone to maintain a consistent routine, but if you don’t find it interesting or see strong benefits, your desire to continue is going to decrease.
The benefits of therapeutic sports also exceed symptom management. Participation in sports provides confidence in movement, a sense of control over disease progression, and companionship in the face of chronic disease. Support groups exist, but many are merely conversational and do not provide the sense of physical support these classes do. This emotional and relational support would extend to any therapeutic sport an individual with Parkinson’s would participate in.
Regardless of the specific activity, exercise following a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease is incredibly important. The Parkinson's Outcome Project (Parkinson's Foundation) states “people with PD who exercised regularly for 2.5 hours a week had a smaller decline in mobility and quality of life over two years.” No one doubts the benefits of exercise in any individual, but for those experiencing Parkinson’s Disease, exercise should be a top priority.