“The tremor goes away the minute they start punching things,” Fighting Parkinson’s disease with boxing

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Parkinson's is a debilitating, degenerative disease.

Over the years, famous patients like actor Michael J. Fox have raised awareness, but there is still no cure.

Symptoms get worse with age.

Oklahoma Parkinson's patients have discovered a treatment that is working.

It's not a miracle drug, but a prescription to fight.

Prizefighting boxers are championed in the ring.

But the seed of a stinging haymaker is planted in the gym where athletes lace up their shoes and strap on their gloves.

"I think they really like the fact that they can hit something," said boxing instructor Stephanie Tolson. "And it's socially acceptable to hit a bag and not people."

Tolson is an amateur boxer at Roughhouse Boxing in Edmond.

She trains all levels of fighters including several men with Parkinson's disease.

"The tremor goes away the minute they start punching things," she said.

It's a strange phenomenon the boxing community has been whispering about for years.

The rhythm of training has a certain magic, experts say, staving off the crippling onset of Parkinson's.

Neurologists have long recommended exercises that are consistent, intense and complex.

"That's the kind of exercise that's best for Parkinson's patients," said Parkinson's Foundation of Oklahoma Executive Director, Bruce McIntyre. "Boxing fits that perfectly."

Elderly Parkinson's fighters are signing up for boxing classes in droves.

At Solid MMA in Oklahoma City they've got enough Parkinson's patients to hold classes three days a week.

They utilize a nation-wide Parkinson's boxing program called Rock Steady Boxing. 

There are a number of Oklahoma gyms certified by the Rock Steady program.

Bill London was one of the first to sign up three years ago.

He is a lifelong distance runner. When Parkinson's hit everything changed for him and his wife, Coe.

"Most people have it for a few years before they know it, and it becomes increasingly annoying," said Bill London.

Parkinson's has helped the Londons turn back the clock. Bill goes three times a week.

"He comes out of a boxing class, ad there is no tremor," recalls Coe London.

Parkinson's patients notice reduced tremors when they begin boxing training.

Some scale back on their medication.

At The Engine Room Boxing in Tulsa, they are so many Parkinson's fighters the owner, Aaron Sloan, opened up a new gym to accommodate.

"We don't hit anybody down here, but they're fighting for their lives," said trainer Don Jacobs.

Bobby Moore started boxing right after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's.

Back then, he could barely walk without a cane.

"I was embarrassed to go into his gym with a cane. I'd leave it in my truck, and I'd hobble in there," Moore remembers. "After about four weeks I didn't shake. No cane. Nothing."

Mike Tyson famously said, "Fear is like fire."

For Bobby Moore and others the fear of letting this disease win is reason enough keep training.

"The disease is nasty. It's just the nastiest thing on this planet. It's a thief. But we're fighting it. All together," Moore said.

He trains two or three times, a day, three days a week.

"I've got a nice cane collection at home, but I don't use them, " Moore laughed. "I can walk just like anybody else. (Boxing) has really saved me."

Aaron Sloan is a former nurse.

He was so convinced of the benefits of boxing he created his own program called Ready to Fight with a specific focus on continuing education for instructors.

Sloan is now working with researchers at Tulsa University and Oklahoma University on a randomized study of the effects of boxing for Parkinson's patients.

They'll analyze balance and reaction time, cardiovascular fitness and the neuro-psychological benefits for patients and their caregivers.

Sloan is excited about the study because there's not much scientific research about the benefits of boxing.

Doctors have known about the benefits of exercise for years.

But, boxing may be a new cornerman in the fight against this cruel disease; a check hook combination to keep patients in the ring living their best life.

For Parkinson's fighters, defeat does not come when they fall, but when they refuse to stand back up.

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