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People with Parkinson’s around Europe are taking part in boxing classes specially designed to take a swing at their symptoms and improve their fitness.

Parkinson's Europe spoke to sports clubs around Europe that offer boxing classes specifically for people with Parkinson’s (PwPs). While the locations of these classes vary, everyone involved spoke passionately about the various benefits – for both physical and mental health –  this form of exercise can bring to PwPs.

In the second of our two-part series on boxing, we speak to PwPs about their experience of the sport, and the benefits they’ve seen.

Corinne Trivaudey is 50 years old, and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in December 2013. She attends boxing classes at The Tulip Center in Luxembourg.

“When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I started to attend The Tulip Center in Luxembourg, which is where I discovered boxing. I had never attended a boxing class before, but I really enjoy it.

“In addition to the boxing classes, I exercise once a week with a sports coach who is helping me to build my muscle mass; I also exercise two to three times a week on my own at home.

“I find boxing is more physical and intensive than other sports; it enables you to improve the co-ordination of movements of both your arms and legs. You need to be in good physical shape to extrapolate the benefits of this sport.

“I find that constant movement helps my pain dissipate, so boxing is an ideal sport for me. I have a lot of surplus energy that I need to get rid of and boxing helps me to achieve this. Parkinson’s has made me angry and I need to get rid of this anger – to this effect I have named my punchbag ‘Mr Parkinson’.

“I highly recommend that young people who have Parkinson’s try this sport. People need to understand that exercise and movement is a good way to delay the debilitating symptoms of the disease. Boxing can be beneficial to all age groups of people with the disease and it can be tailored to meet different needs.”

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I find my walking has improved. I can also put on my trousers more easily – I no longer need to sit down to get dressed – and my general physical and mental strength has increased.

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Wim Rozenberg, 59, attends Sparking Boxing classes in Ede, Holland. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in October 2014.

Wim Rozenberg

“My interest in boxing was triggered when I read an advertisement for Sparking Boxing in the Parkinson Vereniging magazine. I asked my neurologist what he thought, and his answer was: ‘Do it’. So I contacted Sparking Boxing, and I have now been boxing for almost two years.

“I played competition field hockey for 45 years, but I had to quit because of Parkinson’s. I still play tennis twice a week when possible; I also attend the 75-minute boxing classes twice a week.

“Compared with other forms of exercise, I find boxing has more variety. The classes include not only boxing, but all other kinds of exercise – punch-bag training, exercising our voices by reading difficult sentences aloud, balance, cardio, warming up with walking techniques, push-ups, sit-ups and so on. No one class is the same, and while some are more difficult than others, most of the time I can manage the exercises.

“Since going to these boxing classes, I find my walking has improved. I can also put on my trousers more easily – I no longer need to sit down to get dressed – and my general physical and mental strength has increased.

“Boxing has been a really positive experience for me as a person with Parkinson’s, and I would recommend it to other people. Ideally you would have a minimum level of fitness to join a class, but I have seen films of Rock Steady Boxing where people less fit than me are taking classes, so it really suits all abilities.”

Mariette Robijn, 51, attends Sparking Boxing classes in Ede, Holland. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s aged 46.

Mariette Robijn

“I first heard of Parkinson’s boxing at the Dutch ParkinsonNet Congress, at which our coach Hans Louwerse received the Innovation Award for setting up Sparking Boxing. One day I overcame my cold feet and drove down to Hans’ training facility in Ede – and I never left, so to speak. It was boxing love at first sight!

“As well as boxing, I enjoy keeping fit by walking, using a treadmill and an elliptical trainer, and PWR! (Parkinson Wellness Recovery) exercises. Boxing is different as it combines a series of elements such as strength, focus, coordination, flexibility, balance, multi-tasking, fitness and fun. I have found there is no Parkinson’s symptoms that doesn’t benefit from boxing. For me, all of the above elements help me cope with Parkinson’s. There is no minimum level of fitness required, and I would definitely recommend it to other PwPs.”

David Löhr, 54, lives in Stockholm. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008, and joined boxing classes for PwP in 2016.

David Löhr

“When I was younger, I trained in boxing, and since being diagnosed I joined boxercise classes for PwPs at my local gym. I find boxing is an outstanding exercise, and is better than any other sport. You get the benefits of lots of other sports in one workout, training your strength, fitness and cognition at the same time. Since starting these classes, I have become stronger, and I find I sleep better. But most importantly, I have halved my Parkinson’s medication. I would strongly recommend boxing to other people with Parkinson’s. If they really want to, I believe anyone can do it.”

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Boxing can be beneficial to all age groups of people with the disease and it can be tailored to meet different needs.

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Henning Bruun is 47 years old and attends boxing classes in Oslo. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in November 2014.

Henning Bruun

“When I was diagnosed in 2014, I became depressed, as a few months earlier my mother had got terminal cancer, and my girlfriend and I were in the process of breaking up. Suddenly I had become a single dad to two teenagers. I'm a registered nurse and have been working with elderly people for more than 25 years, so I knew what Parkinson's disease could do to you. I read everything on the internet and found a group of young onset PwPs who were training together. I thought, what have I got to lose? I couldn't feel sorry for myself as I needed to do something about my situation. So I got in contact with the leader of the group and was invited to boxing training the next day. It was a turning point in my life; I went from being inactive to eventually training 5-6 times a week.

“The training group in Oslo also do soccer and cycling, but I find boxing gives you a whole body workout, and improves your coordination and speed. The boxing classes are good fun and you can adapt it so everyone has a good workout. It helps with my stiffness, gait and balance. I recommend it to anyone now – the eldest in our group is 78 years old, and we find that fun and togetherness are the most important things.”

Nicholas Mortensen, 57, attends boxing classes at the Broad Plain Boys Club in Bristol, UK. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2003.Nicholas Mortensen

“When a member of our local Parkinson’s group observed boxing for PwPs at the World Parkinson's congress 2016, we asked boxing coach Dennis Stinchcombe if he would work with us. With our input, combined with information from online videos, he adapted his coaching for PwPs.

“We attend a range of classes, from Nordic walking to yoga through to Irish set dancing, PD Warrior and Life Balance, as well as gym-based classes. We do non-contact boxing, using punch bags and pad men to sharpen our reactions, and skipping as a warm-up exercise. Boxing can be very intensive, using power and speed, where other forms of exercise are gentler. 

“I find it improves all-round fitness, cardio vascular, cognitive ability (by boosting blood flow to the brain), muscoskeletal, balance, coordination, and strength. The group sessions and coffee afterwards improve confidence, self-esteem and quality of life.

“I would recommend the classes to those with a reasonable degree of mobility. We have a range of abilities in the class; fitness develops at an individual’s pace and there is no minimum level – we have also considered a wheelchair/seated approach.”

Further reading:

Have you attended a boxing class specifically designed for PwPs? What exercise do you find helpful in relieving your symptoms? Email [email protected] and tell us your stories.

Parkinson's Europe is sharing this article for information purposes only; it does not represent Parkinson's Europe's views and is not an endorsement by Parkinson's Europe of any particular treatments, therapies or products.

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