They jab, hook and lunge — taking a swipe at Parkinson’s Disease every time they spar.
Three times a week, a group of 15-30 Red Deer-area residents with neurological problems work out at the Dopamain Gym to feel better and slow the progress of their degenerative disease.
Innisfail Mayor Jim Romane is among the participants.
This first-of-its-kind program in Alberta uses boxing moves — in a no-contact format — to improve brain-to-muscle co-ordination.
And 72-year-old Romane feels his symptoms have vastly improved since he began working out in the program that’s affiliated with Red Deer’s Arashi-Do Martial Arts and the Parkinson’s Association of Alberta.
Romane was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2012, after noticing a persistent tremor in his foot. Although he decided not to run for re-election the following year, Romane felt well enough to campaign again in 2017 — and he got back into office.
After a couple of months in the boxing program that Romane was referred to by a support group, he felt his insomnia and fatigue lift, and his muscle co-ordination and strength improve.
“When you’re tired all the time, it’s easy to sit in your La-Z-Boy, but that’s not a good thing,” said Romane. “This gets you some physical exercise, and I look forward to coming.”
Parkinson’s results from a deficiency of dopamine, an organic chemical that helps with brain-to muscle messaging. Those with the condition are prescribed medication that contains a synthetic form of dopamine.
Sporting activities of all kinds — from Chinese baseball to volleyball — are thought to help. But boxing, above all, is considered beneficial, since it’s a mental game as well as a physical activity, said coach Roman Rzepkowski.
While no one is sure exactly how it improve Parkinson’s symptoms, Rzepkowski believes the repetition of moves could help create new pathways in the brain. By repeating boxing’s jabs, hooks and blocks, people with neurological conditions — including multiple sclerosis and dementia — are essentially practising mental and physical co-ordination.
“I’ve seen massive, massive changes,” said Rzepkowski. “Some people who first come here need assistance just to walk, or they come in using walkers, and now they can walk by themselves.”
When he first started at the gym two years ago, former Joffre engineer Terry Williamson needed help getting up after doing sit-ups. Now he can stand up on his own.
Williamson believes exercises, such as using boxing moves to try to grab clothespins from an opponent’s sleeves, have helped him regain balance and and co-ordination.
Although he gave up his vehicle license two years ago. Last year, Williamson felt well enough to do his driving test again — and he passed and regained his licence.
“It’s good exercise, you have to think hard,” and the gym provides a great social outlet, he said.
Romane added, “I feel fortunate to have guys here who are really dedicated to the cause, and that helps 100 per cent.”
For more information about the program, please visit the Dopamain Gym’s Facebook page.