Noncontact Boxing Gaining Popularity as Exercise Option for Patients in the US

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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physical training, Parkinson's

Rock Steady Boxing is a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the quality of life of Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients by providing a venue for exercise through noncontact boxing, a concept designed to boost coordination, motor skills, balance, and speech.

Researchers have found that Parkinson’s patients who exercise at least 2 1/2 hours a week also experience a slower decline in their quality of life.

Noncontact boxing relies on exercises that are largely adapted from boxing drills. Exercises vary in purpose and form, but all are intended to improve agility, speed, muscular endurance, accuracy, hand-eye coordination, footwork, and overall strength.

Since the 1980s, studies have shown how rigorous exercise emphasizing gross motor movement, balance, core strength, and rhythm can favorably impact range of motion, flexibility, posture, gait, and the activities of daily living.

More recent studies have focused on the concept of intense “forced” exercise, suggesting that certain kinds of exercise may be neuroprotective by actually slowing disease progression.

The first Rock Steady Boxing program was founded in Indiana in 2006 by former Marion County Prosecutor Scott C. Newman, who has PD. Since then, the program has spread to dozens of gyms worldwide, according to CBS News.

Recently, the Associated Press featured a story on the Rock Steady Boxing club in Bowling Green, Kentucky. For members of this club, recreation and fellowship are key to helping fight their disease.

Jill Steffey, the Bowling Green coach who is also a full-time public school teacher, launched the Bowling Green chapter in October 2016. She learned about noncontact boxing after her father, who had been living with PD for over a decade, was wheelchair-bound after a back surgery.

Steffey began her own certification process to start a Rock Steady program in the south-central Kentucky area. It’s been a long process, but now Bowling Green has a core group of about 20 fighters.

Programs in other cities have shown similar progress, such as one started a few years ago in New York City. Participants in that program say it has made a “big difference,” both physically and psychologically.

Another goal of Rock Steady Boxing, beyond improving overall fitness, is to provide support for those dealing with PD, as well as for their families and friends, the AP notes.

It’s important to ask a physical therapist about the best type of exercise you can do without injuring yourself.

Learn more about the program here.