Parkinson's patients 'punch out' disease with boxing class

MONROVIA, Calif. (KABC) -- Parkinson's disease is a devastating disorder with no known cure, but a local gym is fighting back with a one-two punch.

For 90 minutes, three times a week, 85-year-old Charlie Baca feels like he's "punching away" his Parkinson's disease.

"Before I came here, my hands were shaking. And now look," he said as he held his right hand perfectly still.

Doctors diagnosed Baca with Parkinson's five years ago.

In just six weeks, Baca said he saw significant results.

"My friends tell me I don't shuffle my feet anymore," he said.

Movement disorder specialist and neurologist Dr. Jerome Lisk regularly refers patients to the Rock Steady Boxing class at Kaizen Martial Arts in Monrovia.

"Exercise is like taking medicine," Lisk said.

Patients with Parkinson's need cardio, strength training and exercise to improve eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills, according to Lisk.

The boxing class at Kaizen Martial Arts provides all those aspects and Lisk added the combination helps rewire the disease pathways of Parkinson's.

The disease affects various neurotransmitters in the brain including a key one for movement called dopamine.

"It secretes growth factors and chemicals in the body and brain that actually changes the way the brain uses dopamine," Lisk explained.

Instructor Jody Hould described how participants work out with with weights and motions that assist in daily living.

"We make their body stronger," Hould explained. "We focus on getting down on the floor and up off the floor."

No matter what stage of Parkinson's patients are in, experts say they're going to see benefits. And the earlier a patient starts in his or her disease process, the more likely they'll see a delay in symptoms and use of medications, according to Lisk.

"So I've taken patients and just put them on exercise and they have not needed to start medication for two or three years," Lisk said.

The classes are offered three times a week at a cost of $89 per month.

"A lot of the program is about tough love and we really try to encourage them to push themselves farther than what they think they can do," Hould said.

Baca said he'd like to stick with the treatment for the rest of his life.

"This program has just solved all my problems," he said smiling.

To learn more about the Rock Steady Boxing class at Kaizen Martial Arts, click here.
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