A 2012 study from the Oregon Research Institute and other institutions found Parkinson’s patients who did six months of twice-weekly tai chi had better balance and control over their movements and were less likely to fall than others who did weight training or stretching. The weight trainers had improved balance and fewer falls than those who merely stretched.
Other recent studies show that Parkinson’s symptoms improve with cycling and treadmill workouts.
On days Quaglia boxes, he doesn’t need to take medication for six hours afterward — twice as long as usual. His depression has lifted, and he has more self-confidence. Boxing, he says, “doesn’t cure, but it helps.”
Parkinson’s disease afflicts about a million Americans — more than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and ALS combined. Every year 50,000 more get the diagnosis, a number that’s going up as the population ages. They face a gradual loss of control over their muscles, leading to tremors, loss of balance and difficulty walking or speaking.
And boxing, it turns out, is only one of an expanding array of movement therapies gaining in popularity as antidotes to Parkinson’s. Other Parkinson’s patients are drumming, dancing to a Latin beat, practicing the ancient Chinese art of tai chi or golfing.
Even patients with advanced disease can benefit. Jacobo Farina, 79, says he could barely move when he got up on the day of a recent drumming class for Boston-area Parkinson’s patients. But when the drumming started, he was one of the most energetic participants.
“When you feel the music, your body — your spirit — it comes alive,” Farina says.