A revolutionary boxing program that is helping improve the symptoms of people battling Parkinson’s Disease in Red Deer is on its way to Lacombe this summer.
Dopamain Gym, running out of Arashi Do Red Deer, runs three times a week and Parkinson’s fighters have seen drastic improvements in their symptoms since the class opened three years ago
Doug Rowe, Dopamain Gym coach, said the program is non-contact and incorporates boxing, Muay Thai and jiu jitsu drills.
“People will often think it is counter-intuitive,” Rowe said. “Everyone links Parkinson’s with Muhammad Ali, but what they discovered about 14 years ago in Indianapolis was that boxing is the only thing that helps improve Parkinson’s symptoms. Before that, they had different physical therapy programs and the only thing that really helped was Tai Chi, but the best it did was stabilize symptoms.
“In our program, we have had people go from a 34 on the Parkinson’s scale down to 17. We had another fella’ who went from 23 down to 9.”
Rowe credits the across-the-board neurological improvements to the program’s use of activating fast-twitch muscles.
“We are doing a lot of combinations and that really works the neural network. If you do a 1-2-3-4-5-6, which is a jab-straight-left hook-right hook-left uppercut-right uppercut, that is a complex set of movements. After they learn that set of movements, we change it up and do something like 2-4-6-1.
“They have to work through that and since it is fast-twitch, using different combinations of movements — it helps to open up neural pathways and refurbish some old neural pathways.”
Rowe said these fast-twitch movements help reduce sedentary lifestyles and the improvements they have seen have been shocking.
“When we started three years ago, they told us that we wouldn’t see any improvements for six weeks,” he said. “We saw improvements in three weeks and the first thing we saw improve was that Parkinson’s fighters often have the Parkinson’s mask, which is basically showing no emotion — within three weeks, that was gone. They were laughing, smiling and showing lots of emotion. That was when we knew something was happening here.
“The next thing we noticed was posture change. Quite often with Parkinson’s, you will see a stoop. If you look at our team, there is no one in there with a stoop right now. Probably half of them came in with a leaning over posture and they are all strong and straight-up now.”
Rowe said the improvements go beyond muscular improvements
“I had a woman who hadn’t been able to taste food for three years and after a year with us, she started to taste food again. We have people who weren’t able to roll over in bed who are now out paddling with their kids. We have another guy who came in with a cane and couldn’t move six feet without it — he doesn’t have a cane anymore and he is back dancing,” Rowe said.
The success of Dopamain Gym has led to yearning by the clubs’ Lacombe members to have their very own program in the city. The City of Lacombe agreed and awarded the gym an $1,800 grant to help start the program.
“It has its own life and momentum and right now we have 27 names of people signing up. We can fit 18 in the facility we will be in,” he said.
The program will hopefully be up and running by July 15 in Lacombe at the new Shadowbox Gym opening in the east side of town.
Kim Harder, a Lacombe resident and one of the original members of the Dopamain Gym, is looking forward to Lacombe having their own program. He hopes that community members can receive the same benefits he has.
“It has been an absolute blessing to meet the people I have got to know here,” he said. “The coaches are fantastic and it has done so much for both my mental and physical state. It has helped with balance, flexibility and you have to keep the exercise up, because it makes such a difference.”
Harder has also had the pleasure to watch other Parkinson’s fighter come in and see success.
“I find it exciting watching these other clients come in and watch them improve,” he said. “The improvement is phenomenal and it is so neat to see. We used to have guys come in with canes and walkers and after awhile they don’t need them.
Diane Jegou, one of Harder’s co-workers in Lacombe, joined the club six months ago after seeing Harder’s symptoms improve. She has already noticed a difference in here own since joining.
“I had the Parkinson’s face and was starting to hunch over,” she said. “I was walking fast and that has all been helped by the boxing because I am now able to slow my pace down and get into my right stance.”
Jegou, who said she is eager to come to classes, has also benefited from the fun, supportive environment created at Dopamain Gym.
“We all have the same thing, we are all in the same boat and most of us have the same symptoms. It is nice to be able to share that with the others and overcome it together,” she said.
Harder said he often will not want to come to class, but feels immensely better by the end of it.
“I find you can do a lot of these exercises at home, but you don’t push yourself at home like you do here. You push yourself and encourage each other. You have to see it and do it to appreciate it,” he said.
Ponoka Resident Larry Lentz said the program manages to stay fresh every week
“You feel better overall and if you miss a class, you right away miss it. There is a lot of social benefits like the fellowship, the cooperation, the acceptance. It is a lot of fun and you get a better quality of life,” he said.
Ultimately, Jegou said the important thing to do is just try it out.
“Just try it. There are different levels and the program is to your needs and requirements. You do what you can do and you decide how much you want to push yourself. If you can’t do that push up yet — you may be able to in a little while. Just keep trying,” she said.