Medically Based Fitness

Rock Steady Boxing fights back against Parkinson’s disease.

In 2010, retired chemical engineer Ray Comingore was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD). PD is a movement disorder that can lead to deterioration of a person’s motor skills, balance, speech and sensory functions. As Ray’s PD progressed, he began to experience some setbacks.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Rock Steady Boxing helps Ray fight back against Parkinson’s disease.

“I started having issues with my gait,” notes the Southern Indiana native. “My left leg was not working properly, so my balance was off. My posture was often very stiff and rigid as I fought to keep from being stooped and bent over. I was a runner, and although I could still run, it wasn’t quite the same.
“I tried all the physical therapy routines I knew about to help people with Parkinson’s cope with their issues and take over their lives again.”
These approaches were only slightly effective. Then, a family friend told Ray about an exercise program designed specifically to help people with PD fight back against their disease. It’s called
Rock Steady Boxing. Ray did an internet search for gyms in the area that provided the program. There was only one, FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers.
“Rock Steady Boxing is a non-contact, boxing type of training,” relates Ray. “I glove up and beat on the heavy bag and speed bags. It helps me work out my frustration with Parkinson’s and fight back against it. It also helps my balance and strength. There’s research showing a remarkable improvement in these areas with vigorous, high-intensity interval training.”
At FYZICAL, Ray worked with coach Jordan Brannon, Rock Steady Boxing program director.
“Science has proven that high-intensity exercise like we do with Rock Steady Boxing has a neuroprotective benefit for people with Parkinson’s disease,” asserts Jordan. “By pushing these patients to their limits and out of their comfort zones, new pathways are created in the brain.”
People with PD often have difficulty doing two or more tasks at the same time. Ray was no exception. However, Rock Steady Boxing workouts improve participants’ thought processing and
multitasking capabilities.
“It helps because when I’m boxing, I’m hitting the bag and trying to punch the proper way,” states Ray. “I’m also trying to do the right set of punches the coach wants me to do. I have to remember the pattern, so it helps my mind.
“The coach at FYZICAL devises a new workout every day. I never get bored. I do brain games sometimes. Other times, I work on building my core for better balance or use weights to improve my strength. Or, I might walk or jog in the alley behind the building. She always has exercises aimed toward some aspect of Parkinson’s disease.”

Conquering Disabilities

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation estimates there are more than one million people in the US with PD. Each year, more than 60,000 people are diagnosed with the disease. Many of these people become physically disabled by the condition.
The founder of Rock Steady Boxing began intense, one-on-one boxing
training after he was diagnosed with PD. He noticed significant improvement in his physical health, agility and daily functioning after beginning the workouts.
The exercise routines used in Rock Steady Boxing, founded in 2006, are primarily adapted from boxing drills. Boxers train for optimal agility, speed, muscular endurance, hand-eye coordination, footwork and overall strength. Studies support that rigorous exercise emphasizing these factors could favorably impact range of motion, flexibility, posture, gait and activities of daily living for people with PD.
“Rock Steady Boxing is good for people with Parkinson’s disease, like Ray, because it includes big motions and repetitive motions,” explains Danica Michel, DPT, of FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers, which has coaches certified in the program. “Improvements made here carry on into their daily activities, such as walking and preventing falls, as well as increase their balance and strength.
“It is also an excellent program for them mentally because it focuses their concentration. Emotionally, they feel right at home when they are surrounded by other people with similar disabilities.”
People with any disability, not just those with PD, are often uncomfortable in traditional gym settings, points out Dr. Michel.
“They may feel out of place among the fitter members of the gym or be intimidated by the equipment,” she adds. “FYZICAL recognized this and developed medically based therapy programs such as Rock Steady Boxing to help people with disabilities gain strength and wellness in a calming environment.
“First, we utilize a tool called BODYQ™, which is a total-body
assessment that analyzes patients’ balance, strength and flexibility. It also screens for hearing and visual difficulties. The information we gather allows us to develop a specific program to address their limitations.”

“I’ve been able to reduce my medication by about a third, so I’m feeling much better.” -Ray

The program starts with formation of a class made up of patients with common limitations. The group is run by a team of personal trainers, physical therapists and physical therapy assistants. The class meets regularly for exercise geared toward their particular needs.
“FYZICAL’s skilled providers help patients on the path to learning what they need to do to address their specific weaknesses,” states Dr. Michel. “It’s a team effort, and at FYZICAL, we strive to help these individuals reach their goals and maintain good health. Ray is a perfect example of that.
“Our medically based therapy program is superior to exercising at a traditional gym because our team is knowledgeable about the body and experienced in using exercise for rehabilitation,” she continues. “That is not the case with the staff members at most gyms. Also, our program is not about looking good. It is about achieving total body wellness.”

Unexpected Reward

Rock Steady Boxing is effective for people with PD because of its big, repetitive motions. Perfecting these movements at FYZICAL aided Ray in his daily life as well, helping him increase his activities and improve his balance. He also got an unexpected reward from the program – new friends to lean on.
“I started running more,” reports Ray. “Instead of nine-minute miles, I’m running fifteen-minute miles, but I’m still running. I’ve been able to reduce my medication by about a third, so I’m feeling much better. I’ve also got more energy and more range of motion.
“My exercise group has become quite a support group now because we all have the same issues to fight. We share stories about our own journeys and talk about what medications we take, what doctors we see and what we’ve read in the news about breakthroughs.”
Ray is extremely pleased with Rock Steady Boxing and his experience at FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers. He’s told both his primary care physician and his neurologist about the program and how they should refer other patients with PD to FYZICAL.
“FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Centers is great,” he says. “They’re really focused on balance and confidence. Part of having disabilities is not having the confidence to try something and step out. FYZICAL is an environment where I can do that.”

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