Non-contact boxing for people with Parkinson’s disease is gaining popularity due to its amazing applicability to the bodily systems affected by the disease and its enjoyable nature.
A new study looking at the safety and benefits of non-contact boxing for people with mild Parkinson’s disease gives the sport high marks.

Inactivity can make symptoms worse for people with the condition, so a pleasant way to work on problem areas is especially welcome. Boxing has been called a “soft science”. For people with Parkinson’s disease, this nickname is particularly appropriate, as a new study shows. Non-contact boxing has become a popular form of exercise for people with a mild form of Parkinson’s disease.

A new small study, conducted by Edith Cowan University in Australia, has found that boxing may benefit people with Parkinson’s disease. The study results suggest that non-contact boxing is not only safe for people with Parkinson’s disease, but that 9 out of 10 people also saw improved motor control by the end of the study.

The goal of this new study is to provide “high-quality data on the feasibility, safety and efficacy” of a non-contact boxing training program for Parkinson’s disease.
The small study involved 10 people with early-stage Parkinson’s disease who participated in three separate five-week blocks of non-contact boxing training. These people were on average 60 years old. Each block included three one-hour sessions per week and periods of active rest.

The first block was devoted to learning the technique. The second block increased the intensity and included high intensity interval training. The last block incorporated cognitive demands during the boxing sequence.

All participants were screened, underwent cardiac stress testing, and were closely monitored during exercise sessions.

None of the participants dropped out during the 15-week study, and only four of the 348 sessions were missed due to minor injuries. The boxers’ ‘adversary’ was a piece of training equipment called ‘Fightmaster’, which proved so enjoyable that all participants bought one to continue training at home.

“FIGHT-PD: A feasibility study of periodized boxing training for Parkinson disease” is published in the journal PM&RT.

How Boxing Helps Fight Parkinson’s Disease

People with Parkinson’s disease may experience stiffness, tremors and slow movements, and are at risk of falling. Non-contact boxing could therefore be “ideally suited” for people with Parkinson’s disease. Non-Contact Boxing exercise programs address all of the essential elements of exercise recommended for people with Parkinson’s disease, in one program. Non-contact boxing is also fun and can bring much-needed social interaction to a gym where there are other boxers with Parkinson’s.

Boxing training can help improve hand-eye coordination and reaction times, which is beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease. Boxing training can also improve self-confidence and a sense of empowerment.

The benefits of exercise for people with Parkinson’s disease

Lack of physical activity may contribute to the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Prolonged periods of physical inactivity can promote muscle weakness, rigidity and immobility.
Physical activity is essential for managing the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and can potentially slow the progression of the disease.

Despite the neurodegenerative nature of the disease, people with Parkinson’s disease retain the ability to adapt to the physical demands of exercise and improve motor skills. The progression of the disease can often be significantly slowed by vigorous exercise.

There is also evidence that physical exercise may have neuroprotective effects in people with Parkinson’s disease. Physical activity can indeed increase the production of a key protein, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which can protect existing neurons and promote the growth of new neurons. More broadly, any neuromotor activity that involves skillful motor learning combined with exercise, from table tennis to karate to boxing, can be helpful for motor and non-motor symptoms in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Prevention of injuries in boxers with Parkinson’s disease

Non-contact boxing for people with Parkinson’s should include protective measures to avoid injury. All physical activities and exercises carry some risk of injury, which is why it is important to find classes led by qualified and credentialed fitness professionals or physical therapists.

Non-contact boxing is an aerobic exercise that also works on balance, breathing, strength, flexibility and sensory awareness, all of which are affected by PD. The other good news is that many boxing training programs can be tailored to the needs of each boxer. Even people with mobility issues who require a wheelchair can participate in these programs, the researchers conclude.

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