Parkinson's patients says boxing improves strength, flexibility

Inside the Forsyth County Family YMCA in Cumming, Georgia, Tim Nantz is in a room packed with fighters.

At the Forsyth County Family YMCA in Cumming, Georgia, a new non-contact boxing class is helping members with Parkinson's disease boost strength, balance and flexibility.

Every one of them is battling Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative disease that affects close to a million Americans.

For Nantz, a 74-year-old telecommunications consultant, it started with a trembling in his hand. But Parkinson's progresses, often leading to stiffness, gait problems, difficulty balancing, falls and other complications.

Nantz, married 52 years, has had to give up things he used to enjoy because of his tremors.

At the Forsyth County Family YMCA in Cumming, Georgia, a new non-contact boxing class is helping members with Parkinson's disease boost strength, balance and flexibility.

"I used to do woodworking," Nantz says.  "I would not get near a saw today.  It would be too dangerous.  I used to do most of the work around our house, for repairs. Now, I have to call someone to do it, and my wife has learned to change some light switches."

There's no cure for Parkinson's, but Nantz is hoping regular workouts like this can slow the disease process down. The Parkinson's Foundation says exercise, especially started early, is key to managing Parkinson's disease.

Nantz participates in another program in Sandy Springs, a one-hour drive from his Cumming home. The new class at the YMCA is just a mile from his house.

At the Forsyth County Family YMCA in Cumming, Georgia, a new non-contact boxing class is helping members with Parkinson's disease boost strength, balance and flexibility.

"It works on your balance, because you're moving from foot to foot," he says, "It works on your memory, as you remember the punches, like a 1 or a 2 or a 5, in a sequence that you've got to do."

The Forsyth County Family YMCA launched this class back in September, with a grant from the Parkinson's Foundation.

Jennifer Rewkowski, the Director of Program Management for the YMCA of Atlanta, says the non-contact boxing classes help address a whole list of symptoms people with Parkinson's can face.

"So, a lot of time with Parkinson's, you'll see gait issues, or folks tend to hunch their shoulders," she says. "There is agility work, there is hand eye coordination, there's a lot of vocal work that goes into the boxing."

At the Forsyth County Family YMCA in Cumming, Georgia, a new non-contact boxing class is helping members with Parkinson's disease boost strength, balance and flexibility.

And, you will likely hear lots of grunting and, sometimes, shouting at the bag.

Nantz enjoys that part of the workout.

"One of the things Parkinson's does is it affects our speech," Nantz says. "We tend to get softer. My wife tells me to speak up."

Punching the bag can also help ease his frustration. 

"You can yell at that bag and get angry with it, and pretends it's Parkinson's," Nantz says. "It makes you feel better.  You can get pretty angry at that bag."

With Parkinson's disease, no two people share the same experience.

But, in this class, Nantz says, there is a shared focus, and an unspoken understanding.

"The people are really good," Nantz says.

At the Forsyth County Family YMCA in Cumming, Georgia, a new non-contact boxing class is helping members with Parkinson's disease boost strength, balance and flexibility.

The class has been a hit at the Forsyth Y, as the word is spreading that non-contact boxing can be helpful.

"We've had participants that come into our classes in wheelchairs, or with walkers, and they leave the class being able to walk," Rewkowski says.  "So, seeing something like that, it's just really motivational."

Tim Nantz has become a believer.

At the Forsyth County Family YMCA in Cumming, Georgia, a new non-contact boxing class is helping members with Parkinson's disease boost strength, balance and flexibility.

"I am positive my progression has slowed down because of boxing," he says.