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Getting in the ring with Parkinson's Disease

Posted at 9:45 PM, Jun 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-08 11:36:16-04

BALTIMORE — Parkinson's disease effects slightly more men than women, but new therapies like rock steady boxing are changing the way those diagnosed are living with the disease.

When Rob Ross was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease he immediately thought the worst. “I thought it was something that was going to kill me in the next day or so,” Ross said.

READ MORE: Boxing giving Parkinson's patients a puncher's chance

After learning that the symptoms of his disease could be stopped in their tracks with the help of aerobic exercise, Rob knew he had to get active. He joined the local Towson YMCA and attends boxing class twice a week.

“All of the exercises are geared towards pushing back the tide of Parkinson’s disease," Ross said. "And it’s a revelation because someone asked me the other day, 'do you think you’re at 100 percent?' because I was telling them how great the class was, and I said, 'no, I’m at 110%.' I feel better now, and I’m more limber now than before I got Parkinson’s.”

Not only does the class help with physical symptoms, it also helps with the mental symptoms that aren’t often associated with Parkinson’s disease.

“I think the biggest misconception when it comes to Parkinson’s disease is that it is purely a motor or movement problem that involves some combination of shaking, muscle stiffness, difficulty with walking and balance and loss of fine motor and control and coordination," said John’s Hopkins’ neurologist Dr. Pantelyat. "Parkinson’s disease is unfortunately much more than that. It involves the higher cognitive functions like planning, multi-tasking. Very often it involves anxiety and depression, which often can come to dominate and be more of a limitation to a patient’s quality of life than the actual movement problems.”

Julie Lincoln instructs the class and has seen firsthand how the class has benefited those with Parkinson’s.

“They come, sometimes reluctantly, but after a couple of classes, they really see the benefits, and it really does happen that quickly. It’s not months and months of investment to get a return. A couple of classes in, and they’re already starting to see why it’s important, so they find joy in i," said Lincoln. "These guys are fighters. They’re not sitting back and letting the disease take over. They’re fighting for their lifestyles and quality of life. So that’s why they’re here. They’re in a good mood because they know they’re in control.”

Any aerobics class where patients can get their heart rates up three to four times a week has been proven to slow down the progression of the disease. Doctors say that not even surgery or a pill can slow down the progression of the disease.