ó Mike Bell went rapidly and smoothly through the
combinations of punches as Rich Mushinsky, owner of the
Fit4Boxing Club in Hampton, Penn., called them out and the
boxer slammed hard blows into the punch mitts on Mushinskyís
Bell, 77, a retired physician, didnít begin to box until
after he was diagnosed with Parkinsonís disease nine years
is a neurological disorder that affects the nerve cells in the
brain that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that passes
messages on from one neuron to another. Symptoms include
tremors, muscle rigidity and changes in speech and gait.
no cure, but symptoms can be reduced by medication and
exercise. Almost any exercise is helpful, studies indicate.
But many Parkinsonís patients say they get the best results
helps with balance, hand-eye coordination, the tiredness you
get with Parkinsonís," Dr. Bell said. He learned about
the benefits of boxing from an acupuncture specialist at the
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Shadyside, Penn.
went to see him because I heard acupuncture could help,"
Dr. Bell said. The ancient healing practice didnít help him,
but the specialist had studied in China for a year and said
that Parkinsonís patients there are helped with boxing and
always been a boxing fan. I thought this is the thing for
me," Dr. Bell said. He began working out three times a
week with Mushinsky.
I first met him, he was in pretty bad shape," the club
owner said. "From month to month, he kept getting
improvement in Dr. Bellís strength and coordination is all
the more remarkable because three years ago, he was diagnosed
with bladder cancer.
"gave me 10 or 15 months (to live)," Dr. Bell said.
But even during chemotherapy and radiation treatments, he kept
working out with Mushinsky. Today he is cancer-free.
Dr. Bell said, is not to give in to the disease.
symptoms come on, most people want to lie down," he said.
"Iíve got a heavy bag and a light bag in my basement.
When I feel that tiredness, I go down, hit the light bag and
the heavy bag, and the feeling goes away."
Parkinsonís progresses, the shaking worsens, movements slow
down and balance and coordination deteriorate.
happens in Parkinsonís is dopamine neurons start to
die," said Judy Cameron, a professor of psychiatry at the
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "If we can
protect them and make them die slower, thatís really going
to 2 percent of Americans develop Parkinsonís. The risk of
contracting the disease roughly doubles for those older than
Marion County, Ind., prosecutor Scott Newman was diagnosed
with early-onset Parkinsonís at age 40. To relieve his
frustration and anxiety, he began working out with his friend,
former Golden Gloves boxer Vincent Perez.
after beginning intense workouts, Newman noticed a dramatic
decrease in his Parkinsonís symptoms, and an equally
dramatic improvement in his overall physical health. The two
friends formed the Rock Steady Boxing Foundation in 2006, and
opened a small gym in Indianapolis for Parkinsonís patients.
clientele grew steadily as other Parkinsonís patients also
experienced a dramatic reduction in their symptoms. Rock
Steady Boxing moved into a 2,400-square-foot gym in 2011 and
now has 155 members, ranging in age from 35 to 90.
Rock Steady started a weekend training camp to teach coaches,
trainers and gym owners from around the country their methods
for treating Parkinsonís with a non-contact boxing program.
learned about Rock Steady Boxing from an article in the
Philadelphia Inquirer. He showed it to Mushinsky, who went on
to take the certification course last year, and sent staff
member Maria Berexa to get certified in May.
Indianapolis, Rock Steady offers four classes, depending on
the stage of the disease. All involve calisthenics, jumping
rope, circuit weight training, exercises to strengthen the
core, punching speed bags, heavy bags and mitts worn by
instructors. There is no actual fighting with another boxer.
activities are designed to attack Parkinsonís at its most
vulnerable neurological points, said Kristy Follmer, a former
professional boxer who is head trainer at Rock Steady.
works better to relieve Parkinsonís symptoms because the
exercise is intense, Mushinsky said. It involves balance and
coordination, as well as strength and endurance, and because
the mind is engaged.
have to plan out your moves," he said. "It isnít
like riding an exercise bike."
announced formation of Rock Steady Boxing-Pittsburgh on May
16, and held its first class for Parkinsonís patients in
the class participants, Shadyside resident Ed Wood, 63, was a
lawyer until Parkinsonís forced him to retire in 2012.
"I had fairly significant cognitive problems," he
said. Heís been boxing for about two years.
been very helpful because of the intensity," he said.
Connelly, 56, was a nurse and IT tech before being diagnosed
Goncar, 59, was forced to close her hair salon when she saw
her fine motor skills deteriorate after she got the disease 10
should be good for my wife," said Goncarís husband,
Dan. "She has no strength because of the tremors. All the
movements should help her with balance."
recent class on July 2 was just the third explicitly for
Parkinsonís patients, so neither Connelly nor Goncar has yet
seen much improvement.
more you exercise, the more protection you get," Dr.
Cameron said. "The really good news is you donít have
to exercise very hard (to get a substantial benefit)."
forms of exercise that also involve balance and coordination
and engage the mind, such as dancing the tango or tai chi, can
produce results that approach those of Rock Steady boxing,
study conducted by the Oregon Research Institute found that
Parkinsonís patients who did tai chi twice a week for six
months had better balance and control over their movements
than those who did weight training or stretching.
patients who rode an exercise bike three times a week for two
months at a pace fast enough to break a sweat can regain much
of their lost mobility, a researcher for the Cleveland Clinic
the hour of the first class on July 2 was spent learning and
practicing the six basic punches (left jab, right jab, left
hook, right hook, left uppercut, right uppercut) and putting
them together in combinations. For the novices, the emphasis
was on form. For Wood and Dr. Bell, it was on speed.
class concluded in the ring, where Mushinsky demonstrated how
to fall safely.