Parkinson's disease patients knock down symptoms in boxing ring
Dr. Michael C. Bell took a confident stance in the ring.
Wearing boxing gloves, Bell, 76, yelled out the combinations being called by his instructor, Rich Mushinsky, while hitting the mitts Mushinsky held up.
“1-2-1-2,” “4-3-4” and so on it went for a three-minute round on Saturday afternoon at Fit 4 Boxing Club in Hampton.
Non-contact boxing at the club is about more than exercise for Bell, a retired ear, nose and throat doctor from Sewickley. It helps alleviate some symptoms of Parkinson's disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that typically affects people 60 and older.
Traditional boxing has been linked to Parkinson's — a traumatic brain injury may increase the risk of developing the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic — but boxing in another form can deliver aid, studies have shown.
“It's like it was meant to be,” Bell said.
He participates in Rock Steady Boxing, designed for people with Parkinson's, at Fit 4 Boxing Club, which opened two months ago and is the first site in the Pittsburgh area to offer the program.
It includes hitting mitts and speed bags, jumping rope, calisthenics and intense exercises.
“It's boxing without getting hit, basically,” said Fit 4 Boxing Club owner Mushinsky, a former amateur boxer.
Rock Steady Boxing Inc. was founded in Indiana in 2006 by a former Marion County prosecutor, Scott C. Newman, with Parkinson's. Newman developed the program with former boxer Kristy Follmar, program director for the Indianapolis-based nonprofit.
There are 35 affiliates, including Fit 4 Boxing Club, in 13 states, Italy and Australia.
Parkinson's affects about one in 300 people, according to the Parkinson Foundation of Western Pennsylvania.
Indianapolis-based Rock Steady Boxing is a research partner with the University of Indianapolis' Krannert School of Physical Therapy. A recent study by the school found that people with Parkinson's who did boxing exercises maintained better physical abilities and a higher quality of life than those who did other types of exercise.
“You go beyond the point where it's just a normal workout,” Mushinsky said.
Bell, who is certified as a Rock Steady trainer, said the program helps him with tremors, fatigue, balance problems and muscle spasms.
He takes an hour-long class with Mushinsky two or three times a week and does the program at home.
The Parkinson Foundation has referred clients to the local Rock Steady program, said Barbara Farrell, executive director.
Maintaining mobility helps slow the progression of Parkinson's, but there are a lot of exercise options. Some patients might find boxing is not the right fit for them, Farrell said.
“We like the (boxing) program ... but everyone has a different mindset about where they are with the disease,” she said.
Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or firstname.lastname@example.org.