By DR. RANDY VOYLES
Gloves up! Protect your head!
Your opponent is a 90-pound heavy bag or a 6-pound speed bag. No, it can’t hit back. This is one-way contact boxing. Still, we are in a battle! We are defending self against self.
From our mid-20s, most of us began a downhill slide with a slow but progressive deterioration. We lost stamina. We gained weight. We lost muscle mass. Our sedentary lifestyles often led to cardiovascular issues, hypertension and diabetes. Some of us developed diseases of the nervous system.
For some of us, our efforts are more focused: We have Parkinson’s disease (PD).
What’s boxing got to do with it?
Boxing as a core component of exercise has become increasingly popular with both men and women. A well-designed boxing workout burns many more calories than a brisk walk. There are many benefits of high-intensity training: increase in muscle mass, stress reduction, better control of hypertension. Plus, it is fun!
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s is a condition where there is a decrease of dopamine in the part of the brain that subconsciously controls movement. A common presenting symptom is a tremor, typically in the dominant hand. However, the loss of dopamine leads to muscle stiffness and slowness of motion (bradykinesia). Muscle weakness ensues, with impairment in agility and balance. It is no surprise that 50 percent of the hospitalizations of PD patients are caused from falling, resulting in broken bones and head injury.
The goal of medical management of PD is to increase the availability of dopamine in the brain by means of short-acting versus longer-acting pills, dopamine-like substitutes called dopamine agonists, or drugs that decrease the breakdown of dopamine. The most common drug (carbidopa/levodopa or Sinemet) usually improves symptoms. However, no drug regimen has been shown to alter the disease progression. There is no urgency to initiate medications in early disease. To repeat, the best oral medical management does not change the natural progression of the disease.
Here’s where exercise kicks in for PD!
Since the early manifestations of PD are related to muscle dysfunction (stiffness, bradykinesia, weakness), it’s no surprise that exercise to improve muscle dysfunction is a first-line treatment. Indeed, it is thought that aggressive exercise programs are associated with a seven-year increase in quality life with PD. Boxing’s effectiveness is due to its emphasis on speed, agility, strength and balance. It has even been suggested that alternate neural pathways can be developed (medical word is neuroplasticity) with aggressive exercise in PD. Country-boy logic is that a tremor is a misfiring nerve trying to form a collateral electric circuit.
Rock Steady Boxing (RSB)
In 2008, the benefits of boxing were appreciated as a primary treatment of PD. A program was organized in Indianapolis, and now there are 800 similar programs worldwide. Three and a half years ago, we started our Rock Steady program in Jackson. We currently have 40 active participants. Our program is funded by a nominal monthly fee and supported by private donations. The sessions are held at the Christian Life Center of First Baptist Jackson (metrojackson.rsbaffiliate.com). We have been blessed by caring volunteers and coaches who are “lovingly mean and demanding.” The comradery has been impressive and reflects our mission statement to provide physical, mental, social and spiritual support for those with PD. The boxing gym is called King David’s Cave.
Why King David?
A forensic review of existing historical documents supports the view that King David might have been the first named person with PD. In a little recognized but clearly documented event, King David went to battle with a Goliath offspring named Ishbi-Benob. After his men rescued David from the near-death encounter, they immediately banished him from the battlefield. They must have recognized his physical limitations, for they forced his retirement (2 Samuel 21:15-22).
Like many of us with forced retirement, David knew despondency that yielded to faith-based improvement. As a laudable example for present-day PD patients, he refocused his energy and made his residual days count: He recorded the Psalms and influenced Solomon in writing Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. King David’s extensive biography also outlines late-stage disease where he regressed to a reclusive state and experienced autonomic dysfunction. My brothers and sisters with PD, there is much to be learned from the man after God’s own heart. Make your days count.
For more info about King David, Dr. Voyles has written a short book that is available from Amazon: “Parkinson’s First Hero: King David.”
When diagnosed with Parkinson’s nine years ago, Dr. Randy Voyles retired from a 30-year career in general surgery. He had previously published numerous articles about academic surgical challenges and was recently inducted into the University of Mississippi Medical Center Hall of Fame. In retirement, he changed subject matter and used creative writing to show how earlier historical figures dealt with medical disorders at the peak of their careers (www.crvoyles.com).