My dad is a soft-spoken soul. He observes the madness of our lives while quietly rocking in his plushy black chair. His philosophy has always been passive: Worrying doesn’t help you navigate tribulation, and aggression is destructive. So when he told me he was going to join the Rock Steady Boxing program, I almost squirted milk out of my nose.
“Which of your kids will you think of when you’re punching the bags?” I quipped in response to the news.
“None,” Dad responded, but the twinkle in his eye made me doubt the integrity of his words.
It was hard for me to imagine him hitting anything other than his brother. But he seemed excited, enthusiastic about the idea of learning to fight. Soon he’d be able to ward off attackers. Rock Steady could also help him regain a sense of control over Parkinson’s disease.
What is Rock Steady Boxing?
Medical studies conducted in the 1980s and ’90s showed that rigorous physical activity can help manage the symptoms of a neurological disease like Parkinson’s. In 2006, in response to then-current medical research, a boxing gym with an emphasis on the management of Parkinson’s symptoms opened. By focusing on building strength in the core, Rock Steady Boxing aims to impact overall physical balance, flexibility, posture, and gait. These qualities often decline in Parkinson’s patients.
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation (formerly Parkinson’s Disease Foundation), nearly 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease per year. Rock Steady, a nonprofit program, hopes to equip patients with the means to slow the progression.
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My dad knew all of this before signing up to participate in an affiliate program at the local gym. We scoped out the science behind boxing, finding comfort in our research. Weeks into joining the new gym, dad seemed happier. He was regaining some semblance of control over his life. In a world where every day presents challenges, pounding his fists into the fabric of the dummies seemed to help him channel his energy. Suddenly, there was a productive course of action.
Rock Steady uses “forced” exercise techniques to address common challenges like agility, speed, endurance, accuracy, and hand-eye coordination. Participants even practice shouting to combat the softening of the voice that many patients experience. The program also provides a community for discussing changes that occur during the progression of the disease. Sometimes, patients find a depth of understanding there when their loved ones’ falls short.
Finding empowerment through boxing
Empowerment. That’s the word that circulated on the mouse wheel in my brain when I asked my dad about his journey with Rock Steady. Boxing made him feel like Rocky Balboa, unrestricted to a path of consistent loss. He probably even hummed the theme song while hopping around the boxing gym.
I loved the idea of my dad participating in an environment that would at least give him a butt-kicking workout. Imagining shouts erupting from his mouth was a challenge, but I giggled at the idea of the punching bags being decimated by years’ worth of frustration channeled through his fists. Six months after joining the gym, his face lit up like a lightbulb whenever he discussed Rock Steady. He was feeling strong and capable again.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.