A Better You with Jen Abreu: Rock Steady Boxing


Springfield, Mo. — If you follow this series, you know we’ve been talking about improving your overall fitness level and health. But, what if you have a medical condition that restricts your mobility? In this episode, we’re going to talk about the life-changing benefits of exercising with a debilitating condition.

“They say exercise is your medicine for Parkinson’s,” says Barbara Dooly, a boxer at The Body Smith. And, you know what? She’s right. The Parkinson’s Foundation says, “one study showed that people with PD who exercised regularly for 2.5 hours a week had a smaller decline in mobility.”

Barbara Dooly taking swings at the bag.

Polly Brandman, a coach at the Body Smith, explains, “There was a time when people with that diagnosis were told: ‘sit down, don’t move, you’ll deplete whatever dopamine is in there.’ They’ve discovered that the exact opposite is true. That the more you move and the more intensely you move, that stimulates the brain to produce more dopamine, which helps with controlling the symptoms.”

In an effort to get more people with Parkinson’s moving, The Body Smith offers free boxing classes every Wednesday. It’s called Rock Steady. There are different classes for different levels of fitness. Spouses or loved ones can participate, too. They call them “corner people.”

“Exercise helps with keeping neuroplasticity, so it keeps the brain growing, improving, and functioning,” Polly Brandman says.

Brandman says the Rock Steady program started with one boxer, and it’s growing; however, not as fast as she’d like.

“We are trying to get the word out because there are over 2,500 cases in Greene County,” she says. Although they don’t have 2,500, they do have a nearly-full room of loyal boxers.

“I come twice a week, and this is what I look forward to all week long,” says John Kaufmann. “It’s helped me so much. Things I couldn’t do before I came into the class that I can do now.”

The classes don’t just include hooks and jabs; it’s a full-body workout with squats and breathing exercises, among other movements. It helps replenish mobility, balance, and motor skills that are slowly being depleted by the disease.

Brandman says in the classes, the coaches incorporate cognitive work and voice activation exercises because Parkinson’s affects all muscles, including those in the throat for swallowing and voice production.

“I’ve seen a change in myself,” Dooly says, “My balance and my strength, and being faster. I am a lot faster than I was.”

Group huddle at the end of practice.

“The sportsmanship is really fantastic,” Kaufmann says. “Everybody is in a good mood. You like coming here because you see your friends and you make friends.”

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