Fighting Back Against Parkinson’s Disease

November 7, 2018
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Rock Steady Boxing helps those with Parkinson’s disease improve their quality of life through a noncontact boxing- based fitness curriculum.

By Chelsea Maguire |

There are 1.5 million people in the United States with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Medical studies, including the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), report that intense exercise can help in slowing the progression of the disease.

Rock Steady Boxing is a national training program that has found its way to Little Silver, and aims to knock out some of the effects of the neurological disorder. Earlier this year Donna Singer, physical therapist and owner of Parker Creek Fitness, and physical therapy assistant Brett Ratner, flew to the Rock Steady center in Indiana to train as coaches after hearing a story about the program from a coworker.

Parker Creek Fitness threw the first punch for its Rock Steady Boxing Program Aug. 7. While the program has more than 500 affiliates in the U.S. – 20 of them in New Jersey – the Little Silver program is currently a small one, with eight members.

Eighty-one-year old David Taborn of Ocean Township has been in the program since its inception and was so happy with the results he was getting that he recommended it to his friend, Anthony Suozzo, 78, also from Ocean Township. Both are thrilled a program designed for Parkinson’s disease is available to help them.

“I had been part of more gyms and physical therapy programs than I can remember,” Taborn said. “Then my wife, who was doing physical therapy here (at Parker Creek), told me about it. Now I feel a lot stronger and more active.”

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“It’s probably the only program that I know that treats Parkinson’s,” Suozzo said. “I belonged to other gyms, but the most you get is a trainer. People who have Parkinson’s disease have a tendency not to work out, but since I started coming here I feel a lot stronger, I have a lot more energy, I’m not as tight and I’m comfortable being here. I think anyone who has Parkinson’s, sitting at home is missing a lot. They should get out and do something.”

Both Taborn and Suozzo note that they appreciate coaches like Ratner and the volunteers who allow the members to go at their own pace.

Classes are held twice a week and run for an hour and a half. Each exercise in the program is done in 3-minute intervals, focusing on strength, flexibility, cardiovascular and core training. Activities include non- contact boxing with target mitts, speed bag punching, jump rope, jumping jacks and sit-to-stands.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, degenerative neurological disease with no cure. Those with Parkinson’s experience a decrease in dopamine, a crucial neurotransmitter responsible for brain-to-muscle communication. This causes a loss of motor and non-motor function in the body.

Rock Steady Boxing founder Scott Newman, a former prosecutor in Marion County, Indiana, was diagnosed with the disease at age 39, an early onset; most people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed in their 60s. Searching for a way to cope with his condition he discovered that training as a boxer lessened his symptoms. Newman approached professional boxer Kristy Rose and in 2006 Rock Steady Boxing was born. As word spread of the success of the program, people from all over the world called Rock Steady asking for help. In 2012, the “affiliate” program was created with the goal of spreading a message of hope through the noncontact training program.

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Health insurance and benefits such as Medicare often offer reimbursement for physical therapy programs, but “at some point, insurance runs out, and these people can’t have true physical therapy,” Singer said. Instead, members in the Rock Steady Program Members pay for the program out of pocket, as they would for a standard gym membership.

“This way they can continue to do it for their life. Once they are in the program, they don’t stop.”

The coaches have seen progress in the participants during the short time the program has been in place at Parker Creek.

“You can see that just by doing it for a month they see big improvements,” said Singer. “We had a couple of people that couldn’t get off the floor and now they can do it themselves.”

“From what I’ve seen in the short amount of time since we started they’ve already progressed,” said Ratner. “Their endurance is much better, their flexibility is improving, and their overall attitude is so much better.”

This article was first published in the Nov. 1-7, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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