Can Boxing Knock out Parkinson's Symptoms?

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Jill Chadwick

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            When Max VanDyke was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he never dreamed he'd be bobbing and weaving in a boxing gym or pounding punching bags a few years later. After learning that the condition would progressively impair his motor function due to a loss of brain cells that produce the chemical messenger dopamine, he thought he had little to look forward to but a steady decline. But he was determined not to let it get the best of him, and began attending a program in St. Joseph, Missouri that uses boxing to manage the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, and he’s been hooked ever since.                

            It turns out boxing is just what the doctor ordered for Parkinson’s patients…literally. Dr. Rajesh Pahwa heads the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorder Program at The University of Kansas Health System. In the video, he explains how the boxing regimen is more than just another workout routine. The workout is designed to improve an individual’s movement, speed, eye to hand coordination, balance, strength, speech, endurance and self-image…all areas Parkinson’s disease takes away. He also explains how Parkinson’s works and how doctors can treat it and the patient’s role.

            Also in the video, trainer Tara Patterson, with the Freudenthal Center for Parkinson’s disease, who says she’s seem some remarkable progress in the patients who have participated in the boxing program. Everything from shuffling in with a walker and then not needing it to gaining enough strength to punch a lot harder. She’s constantly inspired by those who choose to fight back against the hand they’ve been dealt.

            Miles Mitchell is a Parkinson’s patient, and he talks about what it was like when he first found out he had the disease 11 years ago. He’s proud of the part he’s played in helping build the boxing program from just he and Tara the trainer to as many as 15 current participants.

            Also on the video, Max VanDyke, an Army veteran. He explains how fitness was always part of his life, and this boxing program has been a huge help in dealing with his Parkinson’s disease. He says a group activity like this makes it much easier to keep at it rather than solo activities. He’s seen an improvement in his balance, and says he thinks of the punching bags as the Parkinson’s, and when he hits the bag, he’s trying to hurt it, in order to beat it.

            The video also shows the trainer and patients in the various workouts.