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Why doctors say boxing packs a punch in the fight against Parkinson’s

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 5:11 PM EDT
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LYNDONVILLE, Vt. (WCAX) - Parkinson’s disease plagues as many as one million people in the United States and about 60,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.

The symptoms are as diverse as people’s personalities, but doctors agree exercise combats them all.

Walk into Rock Steady Boxing studio in Lyndonville and you’ll hear hands ripping through the air. But it’s no match for the loudest sound in the room-- laughter.

Here, every week, 14 Vermonters with Parkinson’s disease participate in classes developed to address the symptoms, putting them through the wringer: stretching to alleviate stiffness; strength training to build muscle; agility to improve balance; and, of course, boxing to practice them all in one swift motion.

“It’s giving me a lot more self-confidence and let me see that I can accomplish things that I didn’t think I could,” Carol Borland said.

In the more than three years Borland has trained here, she says she’s eradicated her shuffling gait.

In just a few months, Jesse Berry says he’s standing up straighter.

But both students agree while they can pack a stronger punch now, the strongest gains are emotional.

“You develop friendships that you wouldn’t normally develop,” Borland said. “I think you also develop an attitude that you don’t have to hide the fact that you have Parkinson’s.”

“I think of this as my second family because you can come here and you can talk to someone who has the same problems as you,” Berry said, crying.

A safe space-- a community for friends tackling a terrifying disease together.

“These people have given me a new look on life is what I’m trying to say,” Berry said.

“Parkinson’s disease is a problem with movement. So, there’s a specific area of the brain where we have these dopamine cells, and in Parkinson’s the dopamine cells are dying off for some reason,” said Dr. Lisa Deuel, a neurologist at the UVM Medical Center’s Binter Center for Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders.

Deuel prescribes all her patients a regimen of frequent, diverse exercise, as studies show it could prevent progression.

“This is super-important because we actually don’t have any medications that slow or stop the disease,” Deuel said.

She notes boxing naturally incorporates every type of activity she recommends.

Thanks to gym owner and instructor Joe Allard, Vermonters with Parkinson’s disease can call this studio their health home.

“I’d like to give them a better quality of life,” Allard said. “I watch them grow as they get stronger, they get more flexible, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Reporter Christina Guessferd: Do you feel like you’re making a difference?

Joe Allard: I believe we are making a difference, yeah.

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