Fighting back against Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease attacks the brain and disrupts the body’s ability to regulate movement and emotion. There is no test that can diagnose it accurately and there is no cure. However, those affected by the disease can battle it. In this case, literally, in the Fighting Back Against Parkinson’s class at the Northern Neck Family YMCA.

How does boxing, considered the toughest sport in the world, help fight Parkinson’s? There is strong scientific evidence that suggests physical activity can affect the progression of Parkinson’s and other neurological impairments. Thus, boxing, which concentrates on the physical attributes most affected by Parkinson’s, can be an effective therapy. The class setting also helps keeping the affected individual socially engaged.

Fighting Back Against Parkinson's Disease

Instructor Rob Goralewicz emphasizes that the boxing sessions are non-contact. Each class starts with a warm-up period of stretching, strength training, and balance exercises. Next the boxers work on gait improvement and coordination using agility ladders, step risers, and floor diagrams. Punch combination drills and heavy bag work come next. These drills improve movement, power, and memory. Routines vary and not repeated within a month.

It is then time for the main event. Each participant spars against Goralewicz during two minutes rounds in a round robin format. They fire punches at Goralewicz while he fakes, feints, and blocks their efforts. One boxer shouts at Goralewicz, “Quit moving so I can hit you!” Goralewicz’s guarantees his punches never make contact but they keep the boxers alert and moving. From the boxers smiles and enthusiasm, it is obvious that sparring is the favorite part of class.

The class ends with a cool down period. The participants stretch and perform breathing, coordination, and voice projection work.

Parkinson’s boxing relies on the support of “cornermen.” In class, a YMCA staff member times rounds and monitors safety during the drills. Away from the classroom, it is the spouse, partner, friend, or caregiver who provides help and support to the Parkinson’s boxer.

Improvements are incremental. For this reason it is often the cornermen, rather than the boxers, that observe progress being made. As a YMCA staffer said, “I can see a spring in his step and a sparkle in his eye that he didn’t have before.”

Goralewicz has a martial arts background and holds certificates in Personal Training, Senior Fitness, Group Exercise, and Shallow Water Aerobics. He is glad to be associated with the YMCA due to the organization’s commitment to improving members quality of life.

For more information about the Fighting Back Against Parkinson’s class, contact the Northern Neck Family YMCA in Kilmarnock at 435-0223.

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