Boxing class can help ease Parkinson’s symptoms

ELLSWORTH — Show up for the Friends in Action Ellsworth Rock Steady Boxing class and you can expect a jab, cross or a hook from your personal trainer — and it is very good for you if you are managing the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“We see members arrive at a Rock Steady class shuffling stiffly with a cane who, by the end of a boxing session can walk normally without help,” said FIA fitness instructor Europa Hagarman. “It happens all the time. It is quite inspiring.”

The Rock Steady Boxing program has been dubbed “the opponent of Parkinson’s disease.” Three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Friends in Action Fitness Program Director Machelle LaHaye and Hagarman together lead an intensive 90-minute boxing workout in the Moore Community Center gym designed to combat the effects of this debilitating disease.

Parkinson’s causes losses in many of the same areas that boxers condition to improve — agility, speed, muscular endurance, accuracy, balance, hand-eye coordination, footwork and overall strength. There is evidence that rigorous boxing workouts can improve tremor, flexibility, grip strength and motor coordination. It is also an opportunity to vent frustration and exercise weakened vocal muscles with loud grunting or yelling while punching.

Participants are carefully evaluated before being introduced to a range of drills and exercises. The classes combine traditional boxing drills with weight-training core work, stretching and calisthenics. All classes are noncontact and designed to protect against injury.

Recent studies have indicated that the intense exercise may actually slow Parkinson’s disease progression, however the level of intensity is very important and must be repeated through a regular workout schedule.

Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disorder involving dopamine, a critical brain neurotransmitter that sends signals to other nerve cells involved in the disease. Vigorous exercise helps the brain cells use dopamine more efficiently.

Rock Steady is a national program and Friends in Action has the only location between Brunswick and Canada. Anyone over 50 may sign up to attend Rock Steady training. A Parkinson’s diagnosis is not a requirement. The fee is $38 per month. Classes take place 2 to 3:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

To enroll or for more information, call Friends in Action at 664-6016.

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