Punch, punch, jab. Punch, punch, jab.
You might expect to see those movements at a kickboxing gym or a fight club, but those and other boxing moves are helping people with degenerative neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis live better lives.
Non-contact boxing, sometimes known as Neuroboxing, is designed to strengthen the bodies of patients with neurological diseases, as well as trigger the release of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that’s reduced in people with Parkinson’s.
What is non-contact boxing?
Non-contact boxing is a fitness workout that takes the traditional moves of boxing and uses them in an exercise workout that focuses on strength, speed, agility, endurance, hand-eye coordination and footwork.
“Neuroboxing is at its core movement making miracles,” said Josh Ripley, co-founder of Neuroboxing, a California-based organization that provides Neuroboxing classes and certification training. “Intense force exercise has been statistically proven to help with the symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases.”
The group classes provide a fun and goal-oriented exercise option that can improve quality of life for people with incurable neurodegenerative diseases.
What’s the science behind non-contact boxing?
Exercise has long been shown to improve quality of life and slow disease progression in some people with neurological diseases like Parkinson’s. Plus, exercise causes the brain to release dopamine, a brain chemical that’s reduced in those with Parkinson’s.
Neurodegenerative diseases affect the brain, which can make it difficult to treat them effectively with medication, Ripley said. The blood-brain barrier that protects the brain from things like bacterial infections also impedes the effectiveness of many medications targeted at the brain.
“Because they are neuro diseases, they affect the one thing that is pretty well protected from medication,” Ripley says. “Natural courses for this seem to be the best course of medicine right now.”
Non-contact boxing specifically focuses on several areas those with Parkinson’s or MS can struggle with, including balance and hand-eye coordination. The sport also combines aerobic exercise and goal-based training, which studies have shown to be effective in helping to slow and even repair some of the damage caused by Parkinson’s by supporting “the potential for improving both cognitive and automatic components of motor control.”
Engaging the “cognitive aspect” of exercise, the footwork and patterns of boxing not only strengthen the body, Ripley said, but also help increase the neuroplasticity of the brain.
What are the benefits of non-contact boxing?
While medication and physical therapy are important interventions, incorporating exercise of any kind can help manage the symptoms of neurological diseases. In fact, the Parkinson’s Foundation recommends engaging in several types of exercise, including aerobic exercise; strength training; balance, agility and multi-tasking; and stretching.
Non-contact boxing hits all of those recommended options in one workout, and studies show that it can improve quality of life for someone with Parkinson’s.
It’s all about training the body through repetition, Ripley said:
“Until about 10 years ago, the general rule of thumb was to prevent movements that would cause you to lose your balance.”
Now, however, he said, exercise like non-contact boxing can help to prevent falls because it trains the body what to do when it loses its balance, which can help people recover from a loss of balance without falling.
A study in the American Journal of Managed Care looked specifically at the effects of non-contact boxing on the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s, and found that not only did participating in a non-contact boxing program improve participants’ perceptions of their quality of life, it also made them more likely to exercise.
…not only did participating in a non-contact boxing program improve participants’ perceptions of their quality of life, it also made them more likely to exercise.
Participants in another study reported improvements in balance, gait speed, walking endurance and mobility, and other studies have found that just four hours of exercise a week can slow Parkinson’s, making non-contact boxing a good option for many people.
Are there any risk factors?
Because non-contact boxing takes the risk of actually being hit out of the workout, the risks with non-contact boxing are similar to any other workout regimen. Be sure to check with your loved one’s doctor about their own specific situation before beginning a non-contact boxing program.
Ripley doesn’t recommend non-contact boxing for people who have recently had surgeries like back surgery or knee surgery until they’re cleared by their doctor. Otherwise, he said, anyone can do it.
“With modifications, we’ve been able to accommodate anyone who has come through our classes.”
Of course, while this type of exercise can be helpful for people with neurodegenerative diseases, it’s not a cure-all, and medication and physical therapy should work in concert with a non-contact boxing program.
“We work closely with doctors,” Ripley said. “It’s a team solution, not a singular one.”
Where can I find a non-contact boxing program near me?
Non-contact boxing is a fairly new form of exercise program, so you may need to do some digging to find one. Search the internet using the terms non-contact boxing and Neuroboxing. You can also ask your doctor or physical therapist for recommendations.
If you can’t find a local non-contact boxing program, online options are available. Neuroboxing.org offers live online non-contact boxing programs, and other gyms with non-contact boxing programs may do the same.
How can I start a non-contact boxing program for residents of my senior residential facility?
Non-contact boxing is a great program for those living in senior residential facilities, but because the program is only about seven years old, it may be difficult to find a Neuroboxing or non-contact boxing instructor near you.
Ripley suggests reaching out to local boxing gyms and fitness clubs to see if they offer non-contact boxing and might be able to bring that program to the residential facility. He also recommends visiting the gym or fitness center to see a class to make sure the program is a good fit for your facility.