Exercise may help improve symptoms of Parkinson’s. Noncontact boxing classes are available specifically for people with Parkinson’s, which may benefit motor control, balance, and coordination.
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that
Symptoms of Parkinson’s include:
- shaking or tremors
- difficulty with balance and coordination
- decreased facial expressions
- restless leg syndrome
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, the disease affects:
- almost 1 million people in the United States, which experts estimate will rise to 1.2 million by 2030
- around 60,000 people in the U.S. receive a Parkinson’s diagnosis each year
- over 10 million people are living with Parkinson’s worldwide
- Parkinson’s affects males 1.5 times more than females
Treatment for Parkinson’s may include medication, physical therapies, and exercise.
This article examines the potential benefits of boxing for Parkinson’s and how to find classes.
Boxing for Parkinson’s are classes for people with the condition to take part in noncontact boxing. A class can last for around 30–60 minutes and may involve:
- a warmup to prepare for exercise and reduce the risk of injury
- punching a speed bag to help improve posture and coordination
- punching a heavy bag for building muscle and strength
- vocal exercises to help with some symptoms affecting the voice
- footwork and agility exercises to help improve balance
- group exercises to allow people to socialize with others in the class
Exercise is an important component of managing Parkinson’s and may help improve symptoms and help people to maintain their balance, mobility, and ability to perform everyday tasks.
Exercise may also help systems in the body that support brain maintenance and how the brain responds to changes in the environment by:
- preventing oxidative stress
- repairing damage to mitochondria in cells, which cells need to function properly
- promoting the production of growth factors that help promote tissue growth
A 2019 study compared the effects of boxing with sensory exercise, which involved participants carrying out low intensity exercises with their eyes closed.
Research suggests that high intensity forms of exercise, such as boxing, may promote the release of a particular molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
BDNF supports the production and survival of dopamine in the area of the brain that Parkinson’s affects and may help improve motor skills.
The study found that both sensory exercise and boxing provided benefits for people with Parkinson’s, but sensory exercise resulted in longer-term improvement in disease severity compared to boxing.
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, people with early-stage Parkinson’s usually have the same levels of strength and physical fitness as people of the same age without the disease.
As Parkinson’s progresses, it may affect:
- joint flexibility, which may impair balance
- loss of muscle strength which may affect how well people are able to walk or stand from sitting
- cardiovascular health, which could impact endurance levels
Before beginning a boxing class or other exercise program, people with Parkinson’s can discuss any safety concerns with a physical therapist.
Boxing for Parkinson’s is noncontact, meaning there will be no punching or physical contact between people.
Many boxing classes for Parkinson’s will have extra safety measures to specifically accommodate people with the condition.
Rock Steady Boxing is a nonprofit organization that provides boxing classes for people with Parkinson’s. The classes have specific safety measures in place to protect people who may be at risk of falling. There are also people on hand to monitor participants and measure blood pressure, if necessary.
It is unclear whether contact boxing can directly cause or worsen Parkinson’s disease.
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), amateur and professional contact boxing can lead to permanent brain damage or chronic traumatic brain injury. Research suggests that most professional boxers have some level of brain damage.
A 2019 study measured the brain function and motor control of 20 amateur boxers before and after sparring matches.
One hour after sparring, the boxers showed temporary changes in the brain that were similar to those seen after brain injury. This suggests frequent head impacts in contact boxing may result in long-term damage.
Noncontact boxing involves no physical contact to the head, so it poses none of the same risks as contact boxing.
The cost of boxing classes may vary depending on which area of the U.S. people reside. Anecdotal reports suggest monthly fees ranging from around $70–150.
If people have health insurance, some boxing class providers may accept certain health insurance as part of the payment.
The Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area (PFNCA) offers free in-person and online boxing classes, as well as other free exercise classes and resources for people with Parkinson’s.
Rock Steady Boxing offers a range of boxing classes for Parkinson’s throughout the U.S. People can search via its website for a local class.
People can search for free in-person or online classes with the PFNCA here.
Parkinson’s Boxing offer classes in New York and South Carolina.
People can also ask a healthcare professional for any recommendations.
Exercise may help to improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Boxing for Parkinson’s is a noncontact, high intensity sport that may help improve hand-eye coordination, strength, and balance. Classes also offer a chance to socialize with other people with the condition.
Exercise of any kind can be beneficial to people with Parkinson’s disease, so it is important to find something that people enjoy and can maintain.