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Boxing: An Unconventional Neurological Treatment01/02/2020

Boxing: An Unconventional Neurological Treatment

Two years ago, John Canerot, 90, had a stroke. The stroke affected the left side of his body and left him with little possibility of improvement.

“In typical cases like mine, I will improve for the first year, but after the first year, I will show no improvement at all,” Canerot said. I spent about three months there, and then, of course, I couldn’t stay any longer because medicare wouldn’t pay for it. I became an outpatient at the West Florida Hospital, and I went in there once or twice a week. They did therapy on my hands and legs, but I ran out of my welcome there as well.”

Canerot’s physical therapist told him to give Title Boxing’s Rock Steady Boxing program, a program focused on helping those with Parkinson’s disease, a try because his issues are similar to the issues people who have PD encounter. Canerot has been a part of the program for two years now.

“When I started boxing, I could barely walk with a walker, and I had a lot of impairment in my left arm and left leg. I couldn’t lift my left arm but 90 degrees. I’m also suffering from neuropathy, which is a tingling disease that you get in your extremities your feet and hands and that’s not going to go away but you can help it by exercise. I’m now able to walk. I don’t walk as well as I did before the stroke-- I probably never will, but I can walk. I’ve got a better use of my left hand that I didn’t have after the therapy, too.”

Rock Steady Boxing (RSB), the first of its kind, was born in 2006 by former Marion County (Indiana) Prosecutor, Scott C. Newman. Newman was diagnosed with PD at age 40. Newman’s friend and Golden Gloves boxer Vince Perez designed a boxing program that combated PD at a neurological level, a program which later became known as the RSB program.

“More recent studies, most notably at Cleveland Clinic, focus on the concept of intense ‘forced’ exercise, and have begun to suggest that certain kinds of exercise may be neuro-protective, actually slowing disease progression,” the official Rock Steady Boxing website states. “Our clients attest, and academic institutions, such as University of Indianapolis and Butler University, are reporting and documenting the improved quality of life among our boxers. Discovery of a cure may be many years away, but in the last seven years, there is evidence that progress is made in all stages of the disease by those participating in the RSB program.” Although this program was specifically created to treat PD, the program is also neuro-protective, so it can benefit those recovering from strokes or neurological injuries like Canerot as well. The program eventually spread across the nation and into the Pensacola area. Title Boxing, owned by Doug Jensen and located on E Nine Mile Road, began the program two years ago in 2017. The gym opened in 2016.

“I’m 66 with a 9-year-old,” Jensen continued. “So, she keeps me very young, and so do these guys because you know we are all just one diagnosis from being in the same position.”

PD depletes the same areas that boxing helps improve such as balance, hand-eye coordination, muscular endurance and optimal agility.

“Boxing engages them cognitively so that the brain is sending signals to the muscles, which is what Parkinson’s does. It disrupts those signals,” Jensen said. “Boxing really is a great overall body workout that not just engages your mind because it is telling your body to do five different things at the same time-- like move your feet, move your hands, move your head, punch with your left hand, punch with your right hand. So, it creates new pathways to the nervous system. Boxing is for everyone. As I am a testimony to it. There’s a gentlemen out her who is 91 years old. He’s our oldest competitor.”

Each RSB class is entry level and based on the person’s individual ability.

“Even though it’s a group setting, people or individuals do what they can do,” Jensen said. “For instance, some of them have had strokes, too. So, you know they don’t have use of maybe one side of their body as readily as the other side, so we have to customize things that work for the one side of their body. It’s the same way for the regular classes. We customize things to that individual's ability.”

The RSB classes are taught three times a week and each one is an hour long. The class begins with a seven minute warm-up. During the warm-up, participants are encouraged to bend their knees, kick their legs up and to just keep moving. After the warm-up, they’ll do six to eight rounds of boxing for three minutes each. The class takes place in one room with rows of punching bags. Jensen and whoever the trainer is for the lesson jog down each row clapping their hands to the beat of the music to encourage the participants. Jensen said that this creates a supportive environment for the boxers.

“What we try to do is instill confidence,” Jensen said. “Instill the ability back in them and give them some dignity again with things that other people take for granted like balance. A number of these people came to us with walkers, and the first thing I do when they walk through those doors is take it away from them. I may not be their favorite person at that time, but the thing of it is that the rest of the class isn’t using it. They want to become like the rest of the class, so they’ll check their walker at the door or leave it in the car. I try to encourage them the best that I can to not do that kind of stuff here. Don’t rely on other things to help you. Help yourself.”

Jensen said that he has seen RSB participants’ conditions improve in as little as a week. “I’ve seen increased mobility, hand-eye coordination, balance is a big one and fewer falls,” Jensen said. “We’ve seen improvements in little as one week. It’s great in a group setting because it self motivates them. They will see other people with the same conditions and handicaps, and it’ll push them to be as good or better than the person next to them.”

RSB also helps improve the tremors that are often symptoms of PD.

“In certain instances, it has helped tremors subside,” Jensen said. “It won’t make them go away completely, but it may be less noticeable to the average person. There are a lot of tricks that people will do with the disease like if they have a tremor in their hands, they’ll walk around with their hands in their pockets, which decreases their ability for balance. So being able to utilize all parts of your body, or as much of it as you possibly can, increases your probability of having a better quality of life.”

Jensen said that the best way to see results from RSB is to be consistent. Title Boxing offers RSB three times a week. You can learn more about this program at http://pensacola.rsbaffiliate.com/.


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