Fighting back against Parkinson’s

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Rock Steady Boxing launched at U of R

Last spring, Rock Steady Boxing, a worldwide “non-contact boxing-based fitness program” was launched at the University of Regina’s Dr. Paul Schwann Center. Under the leadership of Erin Tyson, clinical exercise physiologist and facility coordinator, the Rock Steady Boxing program was established based off a variety of research studies from the past thirty years. These studies demonstrate that vigorous and intense types of physical activity, especially boxing, is neuro-protective, meaning that it can significantly help reduce the progression of neurogenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s. Referred to as a degenerative disease, Parkinson’s negatively impacts a person’s movement, posture, behaviour and psychological capacities.

Although there is currently no cure for this disease; symptoms can be treated through therapy, medicine and even physical activity like that offered by the Rock Steady Boxing program. The program provides its participants the opportunity to effectively fight back against this disease in a way that is non-clinical, physical and very fun.

As Tyson explained, the motivation behind launching Rock Steady Boxing at the University of Regina emerged out of the interest from the Regina Parkinson’s Support Group. In the fall of 2018, the group approached Tyson to see “if [the Dr. Paul Schwann Centre] would be interested in starting a class. They had been trying to get it going . . . for quite some time,” but had been unsuccessful. After looking into the program, Tyson decided that this was something that the university should become involved with, especially since “there was research to support the foundation of the class, as well as training available for staff to become coaches.”

Five months later, after receiving generous monetary donations from the Regina Parkinson’s Support Group, Parkinson’s Canada Saskatchewan and the South Regina Rotary Club, which enabled the purchase of new boxing equipment and covered the cost of one individual’s training, the Regina branch of Rock Steady Boxing began.

As program coordinator, Tyson is responsible for “setting up the classes, ordering equipment and supplies, managing the budget, scheduling and hiring staff.” Additionally, the program also involves three head coaches, Danielle Houle, Carmen Agar and Patrick Bernat. These three individuals “deliver the classes, coach, instruct, direct and motivate [the] participants.”

Rock Steady Boxing is open to all Parkinson’s patients eighteen years and older. However, each participant must first be referred to the program by a doctor. Once an individual’s referral form is received, they are contacted to complete an hour-long assessment, which must happen before an individual can register and join the program. According to Rock Steady Boxing coach, Patrick Bernat, “this assessment includes a complete history, some counselling and three functional assessment items that [are used] to determine which [of three levels] the participant is stratified into,” based on the level of their disease and physical capabilities.

Currently, there are twenty participants enrolled in the program. Classes take place regularly on Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning and run roughly the same amount of time as the university semester.

Interestingly, despite each session following “a similar structure,” as Bernie stated, “no two classes are ever the same based on the exercises, drills and the order of each.” Participants begin the class with a light warm-up and then some “more dynamic and challenging stretches.” From there, participants [divide] into their exercise stations, [and] work in groups” learning and practicing “between two and four exercises . . . with supervision from one of [the] coaches and/or [student] volunteers.” The rest of the 60 minute class involves learning and practising different boxing techniques and skills in “a circuit style workout, [before finishing] with some core work, stretching and [the inspirational] ‘we are rock steady’ cheer.”

According to Bernat, boxing is effective for helping individuals with Parkinson’s due to the direct correlation between the skills needed for boxing and the areas affected by Parkinson’s. Demonstrated by a recent ESPN study, various components including, “agility, hand-eye coordination, analytical aptitude, endurance, strength, power, flexibility and speed” are required in the sport of boxing, but are also, “to various degrees, affected with those [who] have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.” The fact that boxing allows individuals to “train to improve in these areas, [makes it] an effective sport for improving symptoms” related to Parkinson’s.

Bernat also emphasized that this concept of healing through physical exercise can also be applied to help treat/improve the symptoms of other “chronic and neurodegenerative diseases, not just Parkinson’s,” and can also occur with other types of “exercise and/or physical activity.” This idea is something being research by the American College of Sports Medicine, which manages “Exercise is Medicine, a global health initiative . . . aimed at including exercise and physical activity as part of the standard in clinical care.” Even though Bernat emphasizes that Rock Steady Boxing is not directly connected to this health initiative, he does feel it conveys the program’s “main goal quite well.”

Over the course of the past nine months that Rock Steady Boxing has been running, Bernat has observed many benefits from the participants. These include the “obvious physical improvements [such as] muscular strength, power, endurance, cardiovascular capacity, agility balance and coordination.” However, there are other benefits Bernat has noticed too, including the development of a “sense of belonging, community and camaraderie,” as well as the most important program benefit- “it provides a great deal of fun for everyone who is involved.”

Rock Steady Boxing has obtained very positive feedback from the community, media and the participants, who as Tyson stated, “really seem to enjoy the class.” With this in mind, Tyson hopes to see an expansion of the program. “If we have enough interest, I would love to offer more classes, more times and offer classes for participants rated at levels 3 and 4 separate from levels 1 and 2.”

Rock Steady Boxing encourages people to not let Parkinson’s, or any other disease dictate their life, by showing that it is possible to fight back! Anyone who is interested or know someone who may be interested in this program should call 306-585-4004, or visit its website: https://www.uregina.ca/kinesiology/dpsc/additional-services/rock-steady-boxing/index.html

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