Boxing for Parkinson’s a real winner

Pat Evans
Pat Evans puts on the gloves three times a week in the basement of Westminster Presbyterian church to keep fit and active with her boxing teammates. Photo credit: Sally Smith.
Posted on: February 15, 2019

Boxing4Health – Sally Smith

Kim Ducharme, who leads a boxing class three times a week in the basement of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Smiths Falls, says there’s a misconception about boxing. “People often think of it as just a beat-down. But we work on balance, strength, and endurance — boxing is the fun part.” She grins, and adds that punching things can be very therapeutic.

The 10 who make up the group are not buff 20-year-olds; they’re a group of people with Parkinson’s disease, plus some seniors. Ducharme says that more and more studies show exercise helps Parkinson’s. “It improves strength, balance, flexibility and speed,” she says, ticking off all the reasons why boxing is such a good work-out.

The class is run on a circuit basis so there’s lots of vigorous activity with an initial warm-up and then a cool-down and stretching. Ducharme doesn’t stint with the exercises she expects her class to do; and she expects everyone to do everything. There are modifications and progressions with each exercise. “We can find a way to do it,” she says firmly.

So what do they do? Jumping-jacks, balance ball, shadow boxing and gentle sparring, planks, squats and burpees (everyone’s favourite). Then there’s work on “the Bobs”. ‘Bob’ is the head and torso of a man perched on a stand, and Bob takes a good deal of abuse during a class. Ducharme explains the ‘Bob’-work as “full extension of arms, a rotation, follow the punch all the way out, a follow-through and then a pull-back.”

The classes are fast and the boxers are constantly moving. “They have to think about where they’re going and what they’re doing.” Ducharme says boxing is equally as good for seniors. It keeps them flexible, works on balance “all those things that deteriorate as we get older.

“Use it or lose it,” she adds.

Before class boxers wrap their hands. The wraps are long, narrow pieces of cotton which support the wrist, protect the knuckles and absorb sweat. Gloves are pulled over the wraps. At Ducharme’s class, gloves are supplied and when a new member joins, they get free wraps. Other necessities for the class are good shoes, a yoga mat and water.

Cliff Kerr says the classes really help. If he misses a few days he notices his activity level at home drops. Ducharme adds that between Monday and Friday she sees a difference in her boxers. If their weekends have been inactive they are “tight” on Monday but by the time Friday rolls around, after three sessions of boxing, “I see them opening up.” One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s is that everything becomes smaller — movements, voices, hand-writing — so Ducharme is delighted on Fridays when she sees bigger, wider movements, and hears louder voices.

She recounts that one of her boxers was reticent about joining but now admits to being able to do things he couldn’t do before.

Ducharme works through Boxing 4 Health, an Ottawa-based program started by Christine Seaby.

Ducharme became certified seven years ago as a seniors’ instructor and since then has taken many workshops and courses.

Her goal is to get more people out. “The boxers here are passionate about coming,” she says, adding it’s fun to watch people’s surprise when you tell them you box.

She extends the invitation — “Come and try a class and see if you like it.” She says there’s a budget for every program and level and there’s no reason to feel intimidated. Volunteers help out at each class.

Classes are Mondays and Wednesdays at 11:30, and Fridays at 9:30 in the basement of Westminster Presbyterian Church, 11 Church St. W in Smiths FallsFor information, call Boxing 4 Health at 613-277-3601, or go to their website