He was simply, ‘The Greatest’. From his entry into the spotlight by winning the Gold Medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics to his retirement in 1981, Muhammad Ali was bigger than life. His boxing matches were incredibly popular. He won the heavy weight title 3 times.
Ultimately, though, his biggest opponent was not in the ring. It was Parkinson’s Disease. The condition finally ended his life in 2016 at the age of 74.
One of his enduring legacies (of which there are a few) may be one he would really enjoy knowing. That legacy is that boxing may actually help Parkinsons patients.
It does seem crazy. You’d think that boxing greatly contributed to the condition that brought down ‘The Greatest’. It probably did with all the blows to the head.
And don’t get me wrong. I would never recommend multiple blows to the head as a treatment for anything.
Can Boxing Help with Parkinsons?
Instead it seems like the training for a boxing match, rather than the actual match itself, can really help. A very large study of Parkinsons patients found that exercise can really slow the progression of the disease.
Another study compared regular exercise (stretching, weightlifting, aerobic and balance exercises) with a boxing program for people with Parkinsons. Both the regular exercise group and the boxing exercise group saw significant improvement in:
- Balance confidence
- Gait velocity
- Gait endurance
- Quality of Life
While the regular exercise folks saw improvements in balance beyond the boxers, the boxers had more improvement in gait velocity and gait endurance. Gait velocity is a measure of functional and cognitive ability in the elderly. Gait endurance has more to do with walking and keeping up a good walking pace longer.
Improvements in both gait velocity and gait endurance probably sound pretty good for people with Parkinsons! We believe that exercise is very important for seniors for all chronic conditions.
How To Literally ‘Fight’ the Disease
One company has taken the idea of using boxing workouts to fight Parkinsons and grown a substantial business out of it. Appropriately named Rock Steady Boxing, based in Kansas City, has locations all over the United States.
People ages 50 through their 90’s come to Rock Steady to train hard and slow their disease progression. Each class takes the participants through a boxing workout that forces them to push themselves harder than many thought they could. A typical workout has many of the same activities that “The Greatest” used to train:
- “Ring” work
- Focus mitts
- Heavy bag punching
- Speed bag
- Double-ended bag
- Jump rope
- Core work
- Weight Training
This “forced” exercise where people are really pushed has shown to have effects on the brain as well as the body.
While there are very few people who could keep up with the intensity of a Muhammad Ali ‘forced’ workout, it doesn’t mean that everyone can’t push themselves above a level they thought could work.
I bet Muhammad Ali would be proud of the legacy he left behind and the people he is helping with his sport.