Senior Health

11/2/2022 | By Kari Smith

If your doctor told you to go to a boxing gym to alleviate your symptoms, would you look on the wall to confirm your doc’s credentials? If you have Parkinson’s disease, the suggestion is valid! Boxing for Parkinson’s has demonstrated positive results.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder of the brain caused by a loss of nerve cells responsible for producing dopamine. (Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that helps the body function.) Symptoms can include tremors, stiffness, and other uncontrollable body movements. It can also cause balance issues, and in its later stages, difficulties writing, walking, or talking.

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, there are ways to manage the symptoms. Boxing for Parkinson’s is one of them.

Why boxing for Parkinson’s?

High-intensity exercise has been proven to improve the physical and cognitive symptoms of those suffering from early- to mid-stage PD – including non-motor indications such as constipation or depression. As a result, the trend of non-combat boxing for Parkinson’s patients has become considerably popular. Although in its early stages of development, there are published studies in the National Library of Medicine that demonstrate high-intensity exercise may slow the progression of the disease.

A typical Parkinson’s boxing class can range from 30 to 90 minutes and includes stretches, warm-up exercises, and a workout regimen for the whole body. Boxing movements include punching heavy-duty punching bags and much smaller speed bags in order to improve strength, muscle tone, reaction time, balance, and hand / eye coordination. You may also do footwork exercises in a real or simulated boxing ring, and jump rope. The movements focus on building the core, which can improve the participant’s posture, gait, balance, and agility. For those who suffer from voice tremors or issues, vocal exercises may also be incorporated into the workout.

Related: 10 early signs of Parkinson’s disease

What to do before beginning:

Talk with your doctor.

Before beginning any new exercise routine, including boxing for Parkinson’s, check with your doctor to be sure that the workout is appropriate for you and your specific needs. If you have a heart condition or cannot otherwise participate in a rigorous exercise routine, boxing may not be the best option.

Consider buying a pair of boxing gloves.

Older woman boxing. Image by Arne9001. Boxing for Parkinson’s has demonstrated positive potential for managing symptoms and slowing the progression of Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Although some studios or gyms provide gloves, you may want to consider purchasing your own gloves if you intend to stick with this sport. During my three years as a kickboxer in college, I remember the process of gingerly taking off my sweaty gloves and hand wraps and dropping them in a wet bag to take home for washing, so having your own is gloves is more hygienic. You can also ensure a proper fit when you purchase and bring your own gloves.

Be prepared for a workout.

Although your instructor will be mindful of any limitations you have, boxing can be more intensive than some other Parkinson’s group exercise classes.

Realize that PD boxing is not combative.

You will have the opportunity to beat all of your stress away on a heavy or speed bag, but you will not punch or be punched by another human. Whew!

Bring a water bottle.

It is important to stay hydrated, especially while working out.

How to find a class:

  • Type “Parkinson’s boxing class near me” into a web search engine and include your zip code, and you will likely return listings in your area.
  • Search Parkinson’s-specific sites (such as the Parkinson’s Foundation) that include listings of boxing for Parkinson’s classes along with other support services.
  • Call local boxing studios in your area, and ask about the availability of Parkinson’s boxing classes. Rock Steady Boxing, a local gym in my area, offers classes on boxing for Parkinson’s and is part of an affiliate family that currently has over 800 programs worldwide. This gym was founded in 2006 in Indianapolis as a fitness routine specifically tailored to those who are living with PD. You can visit the website to see if there is a Rock Steady partner in your area.

Although there is no known cure for PD, it is not considered a fatal or terminal disease. The key to living with PD is understanding how it works and managing its progression. In addition to medication therapies, boxing can be a great way to combat the symptoms of the disease.

Even outside of a PD diagnosis, group exercise is good for both your physical and mental health. The opportunity to spend time with other participants dealing with the same disease you have can foster a sense of community and be a great opportunity to socialize.

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith