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Rock Steady Boxing class helps fight Parkinson’s symptoms and improve quality of life

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: January 6, 2020 12:30 p.m.

Rock Steady Boxing classes have turned into a community that creates hope, laughter, and a sense of accomplishment in a non-clinical environment.
Rock Steady Boxing classes have turned into a community that creates hope, laughter, and a sense of accomplishment in a non-clinical environment. Photos: U of R Photography Department

Rock Steady Boxing has proven that anyone, at any stage of Parkinson’s disease, can slow their symptoms, delay the progression of their disease, and improve their overall quality of life. Hundreds of affiliates facilitate classes for thousands of boxers worldwide.

When the Regina Parkinson's support group approached Erin Tyson, CSEP Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Coordinator of the Dr. Paul Schwann Center, with the idea of starting a University of Regina affiliate, she looked into the research behind the program, as well as the training needed to launch a new affiliate.

“For me, it just made sense that a program like this - backed by research and forward thinking in its approach to training and maintaining function - belonged here. Parkinson's is a progressive neurological disease, and if boxing can help people living with this disease fight back, then I wanted us to be part of it!”

The research Tyson refers to are two studies that support the effectiveness of teaching Rock Steady Boxing. The Tandem-Cycle Cleveland Clinic study showed that forced intense exercise that is purposeful and goal-driven is an effective therapy to reduce symptoms of Parkinson's disease. An ESPN study, consisting of a panel of sports scientists from the United States Olympic Committee, tested 60 sports on degree of difficulty in speed, endurance, hand-eye coordination, nerve, durability, analytic aptitude, strength, flexibility, power, and agility. Results deemed boxing to be the most demanding sport of all.

Rock Steady has been active at the U of R since March 2019 with twenty clients enrolled. In larger centers, Rock Steady classes are stratified into four Parkinson’s disease levels and classes are usually offered for each level. However, being a smaller center, all levels are combined into one class at the U of R.

Why we box

This table shows how the Rock Steady Boxing class helps to improve the symptoms of people living with Parkinson’s disease.

PARKINSON’S SYMPTOMS: BOXERS TRAIN TO IMPROVE:
Tremor
Bradykinesia
Rigidity
Postural Instability
Stooped Posture
Shuffling Gait
Freezing
<---> Hand-eye Coordination
Speed of Movement
Flexibility
Optimal Balance
Core Strength
Agility
Rapid Muscle Fire
SECONDARY SYMPTOMS: BOXERS WORKOUT:
Cognitive Issues
Depression
Emotional Changes
<---> Improve Mental Focus
Reduce stress
Improve mood

(Source: https://cms.rocksteadyboxing.org/?p=7&c=21)

Tyson joined forces with Patrick Bernat, Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Rock Steady Coach; Carmen Agar, Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Rock Steady Coach; and Danielle Houle, Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Rock Steady Coach to launch the Rock Steady affiliate program at the U of R.

Bernat was excited about the potential of the program and he believes, “The Rock Steady program is medicine because with a better degree of efficacy we have been able to improve strength, balance, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, mobility, and other measures that pharmaceuticals may not necessarily be able to target.”

Agar speaks to the holistic side of Rock Steady Boxing noting that the progression has been incredible to see with the sense of community and the social interaction.

“They come in the room, they get excited to see each other, and sometimes we have to cut the conversations short and get class going,” says Agar. “Some of the clients live in isolation and live with limited mobility. Even one hour a week in this class is helping to improve their quality of life.”

Brenda Kilarski joined Rock Steady because she trusts the U of R’s reputation for safe and effective rehabilitation and training programs and notes that the facilities are first-rate.

“I’ve had Parkinson’s for about 14 years and this class is helping me to work on my balance and agility by providing exercises that I know I can do and I can see that I am getting better at doing. I also have a lot of fun and learn how to box – I never thought I would have my own boxing gloves!”

Darwin Mott was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010. Exercise has been a godsend for him and his symptoms haven’t advanced as quickly.

“Boxing uses new muscle groups – it’s quickness, it’s balance, it’s a lot of different things that Parkinson’s does and will eventually take away, unless they come up with a cure,” states Mott. “But we can always slow the progression – preventative maintenance – and that’s been the real reward for me.”

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Classes start off with a warm-up consisting of dynamic stretches, voice activation, and jogging; then become functional with boxing drills, strength exercises, and core work; and end with a cool-down of stretches, breathing, and a group cheer.


The most notable outcome of Rock Steady that Bernat sees is an increase in strength. The way to visualize or characterize strength is the ability to: 1) get in and out of a chair, 2) climb up and down stairs, and 3) maintain some level of intensity over the duration of the class.

Agar believes improved cardiovascular fitness is the main benefit. “In the beginning, less than half way through the class, participants sat down on chairs to take breaks experiencing dizziness and feeling quite fatigued. Now, this is quite rare and generally speaking everyone can make it through every class and push themselves even more.”

When it comes to participating in Rock Steady Boxing, Bernat points out that people have literally nothing to lose and everything to gain – not only from a camaraderie and community perspective, but also a fitness perspective. Cardiorespiratory and muscle fitness, power, and endurance are important for everyone, but especially Parkinson’s clients.

Rock Steady Boxing operates through the Dr. Paul Schwann Centre at the University of Regina. For the Winter 2020 semester classes run: Monday (16 weeks; $160), Wednesday (17 weeks; $170), and Friday (15 weeks; $150). The classes are from 10:45 – 11:45 a.m. People can register for one, two, or all three classes. Every person wishing to join the Rock Steady Boxing class requires a doctor’s referral and an initial assessment.

For more information and to register, visit Rock Steady Boxing or call 306-585-4004.