Tallahassee Parkinson’s patients are finding hope and community at a local gym.
This is the SWEAT Therapy Fitness Rock Steady Boxing program. The gym offers small group workouts, but the gym-goers here now are a little different from your standard fitness fiend. They’re all living with Parkinson’s, a neurological disorder that slowly robs them of their motor and speaking skills. Everyday activities are harder for them, but they’re fighting the disease through boxing. Here’s Ann Davis, otherwise known as Tiny Terror.
“Oh, I have a lot of muscular improvements; I can do a lot more getting in and out of cars, getting in and out of chairs, my stamina is better, my energy level is better. I just think it’s a wonderful program and something that we needed in Tallahassee and SWEAT Therapy brought it to us.”
The Parkinson’s fighters meet every week to do rigorous boxing exercises. Their class on Fridays is a mix of all levels, from patients that haven’t yet seen symptoms, to others who are in wheelchairs. They all notice that those hard everyday tasks - they’re getting easier. Tallahassee physical therapist Teresa Hunter says Parkinson’s diminishes the brain’s dopamine levels, but those levels can be increased through intense workouts.
“Exercise does change the neurotransmitters in the brain, both dopamine and serotonin, and norepinephrine. And by changing those neurotransmissions, sometimes it can accommodate and compensate for their loss of dopamine."
That’s essential for these patients, because dopamine is the chemical that regulates movement and emotional responses. But there’s another factor that seems to be at work in the healing process. Class member Judith Barrett says the support here is fantastic.
“Positive people that are trying to make a difference in their own health, and there’s nothing better than being with a group of people that really want to make a difference. Make a difference for themselves and for their families.”
Family and assistants are standing on the sidelines, called “cheerleaders.” They call on classmate Jimmy to sing, and rave about Tiny Terror’s fierce punches. The classes are hard work, but their fight is a lot easier with this community in their corner.