Back in 2006, a revolutionary program to help people who suffer from Parkinson's disease was launched in Indianapolis, Indiana, and it has proved to be remarkably successful. Rock Steady Boxing nonprofit was founded by Scott C. Newman, a former Marion County prosecutor who was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's when he was only 40 years old.
After Newman began an intense high-energy boxing regimen, he noticed a dramatic improvement in his overall well-being and decided to launch a program to "fight back against Parkinson's." For the group logo, he used an image of the Statue of Liberty wearing a boxing glove as a symbol of light and hope for those suffering from the disease.
Most of us know about the challenges of Parkinson's disease because we watched Muhammad Ali struggle to light the Olympic flame in Atlanta in 1996, or we are aware of the successful Michael J. Fox Foundation, which has raised almost $1 billion during the past two decades. But unless someone you know or love wrestles with Parkinson's on a daily basis, it's hard to understand what a profoundly negative effect muscle tremors and unsteadiness can have on one's life.
In 2015, Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes," whose husband, Aaron Latham, has Parkinson's, broadcast a look at Rock Steady Boxing, which has helped improve Latham's balance, strength and mood. RSB uses noncontact boxing as a way to improve agility, balance, circulation, fitness, flexibility, motor skills, strength — and emotional confidence. There are hundreds of locations scattered across all 50 states, and their exercise protocol focuses on the following:
—Connections (establishing a rapport with the men and women in your exercise group).
—Compassion (knowing that you are not alone, and that others care about your well-being).
—Consistency (using a variety of predictable exercises to address areas of compromised coordination or muscular loss).
Every year, more than 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. It usually attacks older individuals, but about 4 percent of the recently diagnosed are under the age of 50. (Michael J. Fox was only 29 when he was diagnosed, and his first symptom was a pinky finger that would not stop twitching.)
According to the Parkinson's Foundation, nearly 1 million people in the United States will have been diagnosed with Parkinson's by 2020, and more than 10 million people worldwide live with the disease. Men appear to be 1.5 times more likely to have Parkinson's than women, and the direct and indirect costs of the disease (disability payments, lost income and treatments) is believed to be around $25 billion in the U.S. alone. The average annual cost of Parkinson's medications is close to $3,000, and Parkinson's-related surgeries can cost up to $1,000.
Currently, there is no cure, but some people believe that diet, environmental factors (pesticides and toxins) and genetic factors are all involved when it comes to a Parkinson's diagnosis. In the meantime, participating in a Parkinson's support group can be helpful for those who have been diagnosed, as well as for those who love them. If you don't like the idea of wearing boxing gloves, three programs that might prove useful are Drums Alive, LSVT BIG and LSVT GLOBAL.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.