By Terence Dooley
Muhammad Ali’s post-boxing battle with Parkinson’s was attributed in part to the blows he took in the ring, especially in the second phase of his career, yet some experts at the time claimed that the physical fitness he built up during his time in the sport may have helped his body fight certain symptoms.
Now, over two-years after his death, research suggests that involvement with boxing as a fitness activity could be beneficial in the fight against the debilitating disease. The condition has core symptoms such as tremors, difficultly moving and stiffness, and these can contribute to physical problems such as falling over as well as mental issues, for example depression, insomnia and memory loss. However, regular physical activity could help diminish the effects of certain symptoms.
The NHS estimates that one in five people will suffer from Parkinson's, which is caused by a loss of dopamine in the brain, during their lifetime, with the majority of suffers being 50 or over, although an estimated one in 20 suffers are under the age of 40. The lack of a cure means that many live in fear of being diagnosed with the disease, but there are increasingly more ways of living and coping with it.
Chantell Calderbank, a Salford-based sufferer, took up non-contact boxing training earlier this year at the Elite Boxing Gym owned and ran by former pro Alex “One Man Riot” Matvienko, and she told the Manchester Evening News that there has been an improvement.
“I couldn’t just sit around doing nothing,” she said. “Before I started boxing I was so exhausted. I was suffering from a lack of concentration and had stiffness in my limbs. But they are so friendly at the gym, I’m getting to know people. I get up and go to the boxing gym three times a week. It’s given me a new lease of life. When you hit the punch bag, the tremor stops. It only starts again when you relax.”
She added: “When I think of where I was to where I am now — I still have a long way to go — but I can already move my arm. My two sons, who are 12 and 18, have been really supportive, they are amazed I have started boxing.”
The 43-year-old is one of around 127,000 people in the UK who are battling Parkinson’s. In Calderbank’s case it began as a creeping physical malaise, a slight tremor in her hand that became steadily worse.
“It was odd but I wasn't overly concerned to begin with,” said the PA when speaking to Laura Milne of The Express. Once the diagnosis was confirmed, she learned that physical exercise can help alleviate some of the symptoms so started up her new hobby and this in turn led her to the Elite Gym, where someone else with Parkinson’s had trained for years for the same reason.
“It took all my courage to enter the doors of the gym for the first time,” she said. “I was so anxious and nervous, my tremor was on full voltage but the staff and qualified coaches were so welcoming and any fears I had soon disappeared.”
Some sufferers in America have taken the same route, and Daiga Heisters from the told The Express that: “Evidence suggests that increasing exercise to 2.5 hours a week can slow the progression of Parkinson's symptoms and Chantell is an amazing example of what can be achieved through exercise. Boxing training has helped her increase her mobility and reduce stiffness and pain.”
You can visit Parkinson's UK for more information about Parkinson's or to find further support.
Please send news and views to @Terryboxing.