Boxing helps seniors fight symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Lee Accavallo kickboxing

By Dr. Erin Bailey, PT with Fyzical Therapy & Balance Centers

Lee Accavallo is the last one you’d want to fight in the boxing ring.

He trains vigorously four times per week, and the sound of impact from his powerful right hook echoes through the gym.

But Accavallo isn’t training to knock you out. Instead, the 67-year-old is hoping to knock out symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Boxing helps seniors fight symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

Accavallo is a member of FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers, which offers Rock Steady Boxing group classes designed by medical professionals to alleviate some symptoms impacting the lives of those living with Parkinson’s.

“These people in here are fighting for their life,” said Accavallo, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2018 and experiences nearly constant tremors on the left side of his body.

“These people that run this place change our life.”

Boxing helps seniors fight symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects an estimated 1 million Americans.

Symptoms typically develop slowly over the years, leading to a deterioration of motor skills, balance, speech and sensory functions. Individuals with Parkinson’s can experience tremors, fatigue, difficulty moving and sleeping, dizziness, anxiety, depression, loss of smell, constipation, a softer voice, an expressionless face, extremely poor posture and other conditions.

The specific cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, and there is no cure. However, individuals can manage the disease and take steps to slow its progression.

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Benefits of Boxing

Boxers have a skill set that includes superb balance, hand-eye coordination and mental focus. They must be strong, yet agile and quick-moving, and establish a rhythm in the ring. Meanwhile, Parkinson’s can diminish each of those skills.

Boxing helps seniors fight symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Terry Johnson

By forcing the body into a workout that requires maximum effort, speed, strength, balance and flexibility, programs like Rock Steady Boxing may be “neuroprotective,” thus working to delay the progression of symptoms.

Terry Johnson, 67, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014. An avid cyclist, Johnson bikes 30 miles daily or “only” 20 miles on days he attends a Rock Steady Boxing class. As a result, Johnson said the tremors he experiences in his left hand have not worsened over the years, and he hasn’t reported any new Parkinson’s symptoms.

“They say Rock Steady Boxing or any kind of physical activity will keep the symptoms under control,” Johnson said.

Rock Steady Boxing

Boxing helps seniors fight symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Boxing class at Fyzical

Rock Steady Boxing offers a variety of classes not based on boxing ability, but rather the degree to which Parkinson’s is impacting participants’ daily activities.

Certified instructors lead Rock Steady Boxing classes, which begin with extensive warmup exercises before participants rotate through a series of stations. Participants throw jabs, hooks and uppercuts using both hands. Kickboxing is also part of the curriculum. Balance, flexibility, strength and endurance stations complete the rotation. All told, classes can last 90 minutes with only brief pauses for water breaks.

“I know that they’re working hard and they’re doing their best, and they’re motivating each other,” said Maggie Green, a wellness coordinator at FYZICAL. “Just seeing them progress is amazing.”

Boxing helps seniors fight symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Lee Accavallo (l), Michael Compton (r)

Rock Steady Boxing participants include men and women with varying levels of skills and athletic abilities. Some individuals have only recently received their Parkinson’s diagnosis, while others are experiencing severe symptoms and mobility challenges.

Although many are hesitant to attend traditional Parkinson’s support groups, Accavallo said Rock Steady Boxing is as much about the physical activity as it is the bonding opportunity.

“You’ll see quite a camaraderie in here; we’re a brotherhood and a sisterhood of Parkinson’s people,” Accavallo said. “It is very much a support group and an exercise class.”

Boxing helps seniors fight symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

About the Author

Dr. Erin Bailey, PT, is a regional director for FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers, which has more than 400 locations in 45 states.

For more information, please visit fyzical.com.

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