Running an intense boxing session for individual’s living with Parkinson’s Disease may sound outlandish to some, but preliminary findings point towards boxing and other intense ‘forced’ exercise as an efficient means of slowing the progression of the currently incurable disease.
Parkinson’s Disease is the most common neurodegenerative disorder worldwide, causing severe movement disruption and cognitive dysfunction in those living with the disease. Parkinson’s is characterised by cell death primarily in the brain’s basal ganglia, leading to nerve transmissions affected or entirely halted due to the unavailability of dopamine, a neurotransmitter. This leads to drastic deterioration in normal motor function, with individuals experiencing tremors, rigidity, ‘freezing’ during walking and balance deficits.
Although the sport of boxing has been associated with increasing the risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease due to repetitive head trauma (many believe high profile boxing champion Muhammad Ali’s time in the ring directly influenced himself developing Parkinson’s Disease), recreational, non-contact boxing tells a different story. The reason recreational boxing looks to be so effective at slowing and even reversing the progression of the disease is that boxing as a form of exercise specifically strengthens the areas that Parkinson’s Disease weakens.
A typical boxing session trains gross and fine motor skills, reaction time, balance, stability and a range of other skills that commonly deteriorate as the disease progresses, hindering activities of daily living. On top of this, the complex combos and drills have the secondary benefit of stimulating cognitive function that directly translates to activities of daily living. Studies have found that the repeated exercise helps the brain’s neurons use the available dopamine more efficiently, allowing for general improvements in day to day motor function. Research also indicates that intense exercise limits further damage to neurones and dopamine receptors, effectively slowing and possibly halting the advance of Parkinson’s Disease in some cases. The added social benefit to training with a partner or in a group can have a substantial benefit to any individual’s mood-state and outlook regarding their diagnosis and motivate them to continue with the programme.
Any activity that can collate all these aspects together in one session seems to be tailor made for people living with Parkinson’s – of all levels of progression, and the evidence is clear. If you have any further questions into this exciting approach in the fight against Parkinson’s Disease, or in exercise rehabilitation in general, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Callan Smith (B.Sc. Exercise and Sports Science, B.Sc. Exercise Science and Rehabilitation)
Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) (ESSAM)
Abbruzzese, G., Marchese, R., Avanzino, L. and Pelosin, E. (2016). Rehabilitation for Parkinson’s Disease: Current Outlook and Future Challenges. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders, 22, pp.S60-64
Petzinger, G., Fisher, B., McEwen, S., Beeler, J., Walsh, J., Jakowec, M. (2013). Exercise-Enhanced Neuroplasticity Targeting Motor and Cognitive Circuitry in Parkinson’s Disease. The Lancet Neurology, 12, pp. 716-726.