Facing Parkinson’s with Strength!

While a cure for Parkinson’s disease is not yet within our reach, neurologists can help control its symptoms with the help of several medications. It is also proven that self-care, through a physical exercise regimen, is also a very effective therapy for individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s. What has emerged as the most beneficial therapy is boxing, which specifically helps keep tremors at bay.

More than 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s annually. The diagnosis is seriously challenging for anyone, but even more devastating to someone diagnosed at a young age. They often face denial and embarrassment at their new condition. But fortunately strides are being made that can offer hope. The Rock Steady Boxing Program (RSB) is one helpful measure and the sooner the individual starts to understand that building a stronger body can help them long-term, the better they will feel. Knowing this, and combining my love for helping people improve their lives physically and mentally through fitness, I fully embraced this new initiative for people with Parkinson’s and eagerly launched the program here at the JCC.

When we initially introduced the RSB program through our collaboration with the Jewish Home, we offered a guest workout led by Jimmy Choi, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of only 27. He was in denial for several years and didn’t work out or watch his diet. One day, while holding his young daughter in his arms, he lost his balance and fell down. That was his wake up call. He knew he had to change his lifestyle. He became a workout addict and strengthened his body tremendously. He became the first participant with Parkinson’s in the American Ninja Warrior Show and has completed the show three more times. He now dedicates his life to promoting an active lifestyle to help those living with Parkinson’s improve their mobility.

His story made a huge impact on me and I realized the enormous potential that could be gained by providing individuals with this diagnosis with a place to work out close to home, in the comfort of a warm, loving, supportive, community setting. Through non-contact boxing, our inspirational fitness team works with our participants by focusing on overall fitness, strength, balance and reaction time. We always strive to offer a fun and supportive place for people to work out and connect with others in the same situation and every day, we see the benefits that exercising in a small group setting offer. It creates camaraderie between members, provides positive social interaction, the safety of a support group, and personal accountability – all important factors that address the mind, body and spirit.

Here are some of the key benefits Parkinson patients can hope to achieve through RSB:

  • Since Parkinson’s is a degenerative movement disorder which causes deterioration of motor skills, balance, speech and sensory function, the great benefit of RSB is that it can reverse, reduce and even delay Parkinson symptoms.
  • Boxing drills are designed to condition for optimal agility, speed, muscular endurance, accuracy, hand-eye coordination, footwork and overall strength. RSB does the same by utilizing boxing skills to extend a person’s perceived capabilities.
  • The Rock Steady approach seems to be particularly helpful because it combines non-contact physical activity with things like repetition, challenges and dual-tasking, which help maintain old connections and create new ones in the brain.
  • Exercise that emphasizes gross motor movement, balance, core strength, and rhythm favorably impact range of motion, flexibility, posture, gait, and other activities of daily living. RSB does all these things and there is evidence that it produces a “neuro-protective response” that may actually slow the disease’s progression. It does this by interacting with dopamine cell structures that protect and reduce the breakdown of the cell walls. The benefit is often a reduction in motor and non-motor symptoms for patients.
  • The RSB program also provides camaraderie, which is just as therapeutic as exercise! Participants get to meet people who lift their spirits. Combining this kind of exercise with the social connection can have a profound impact on a person’s ability to live well with Parkinson’s.
  • And, in addition to being an intense, diverse form of training, RSB is also an incredible stress reliever, confidence booster, and just plain fun!

We want to thank the Jewish Home Family for partnering with us to provide the Rock Steady Boxing program here at the JCC. The Rock Steady Boxing Program is a part of the Parkinson’s Center at their facility in Rockleigh, New Jersey. We also want to thank and credit Tom Elliot, our head coach, for all his hard work on this program. He not only coaches the workouts, but also performs the initial evaluations and serves as the kind of mentor that participants really need.

Do you know someone who was newly or recently diagnosed who you think would benefit from this type of program? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Guests can take a sample class and see for themselves what the program is all about.

Hagit Tal Written by Hagit Tal. Hagit Tal is Group Exercise Director at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades. She oversees the supervision and management of the entire Group Exercise program, including over 90 complimentary and fee-based classes weekly. She also supervises the Pilates apparatus program. She has worked for the JCC since 2011 and continues to be one of the most popular group exercise instructors. Hagit is an AFAA Certified Personal Trainer and Group Exercise Instructor, a Mad Dog Athletics Spinning Instructor, and a Body Shred by Jillian Michel’s Instructor.

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