A three-month boxing program reduced motor and non-motor symptoms in participants with Parkinson’s disease, a new study finds.

Investigators from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago tracked symptoms in 14 patients with Parkinson’s who completed the 12-week boxing program at a community gym. All were in the second of the disease’s five stages. At stage two, motor symptoms such as tremors, rigidity, walking problems and poor posture begin to worsen.

Results showed significant decreases in scores for motor symptoms, and for several non-motor symptoms as well, including depression, anxiety, sleep and pain. Investigators did not see improvement in apathy, a common problem.

The study highlights the importance of exercise for managing the disease, and the study’s focus on nonmotor symptoms is a first, noted study author and neurologist Roshni Patel, M.D., of Rush Medical College.

Non-motor symptoms

Parkinson’s disease is typically characterized by motor features, Patel said in a statement. “But non-motor features can be just as or even more debilitating than the motor symptoms, and they can be harder to treat.”

The concept of boxing for Parkinson’s symptom relief and well-being is not new. In 2020, researchers published a study on Rock Steady Boxing, a commercial program aimed at people with Parkinson’s. Participants reported better quality of life and greater confidence in their ability to continue exercising than did non-participants, the researchers reported.

Exercise should be part of the treatment regimen for Parkinson’s, said Patel, of the new study. Boxing is particularly helpful in that it addresses balance, coordination, strength and aerobic conditioning and offers a social component well. 

The researchers hope to expand their studies to larger groups with longer follow-up.

Results were presented at the 2022 American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in April.

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