On the ball at a Rock Steady Boxing class

Can Rock Steady Boxing reduce the degenerative disease symptoms?

There is a well-known joke about the Frenchman, the German and the Jew, sitting together on a hot day. The Frenchman says “I’m tired and thirsty, I must have wine.” The German says “I’m tired and thirsty, I must have beer.” The Jew says “I’m tired and thirsty, I must have diabetes.”

The joke is, of course, a dig at Jewish hypochondria. However there are several research studies which indicate that many Ashkenazi Jews have a genetic mutation which increases their chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. Most of us are also aware of other “Jewish diseases” such as Tay-Sachs and Gaucher’s disease. 

It is less well-known, however, that Parkinson’s is now beginning to be considered a “Jewish disease”. According to Professors Nir Giladi and Avi Orr-Urtreger of Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center, about 250,000 Jews of Ashkenazi descent in Israel carry a genetic mutation which is a possible cause for Parkinson’s. About 25,000 people in Israel have Parkinson’s Disease. (See article in The Jerusalem Post, Nov 1, 2018 https://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Searching-for-a-cure-for-Parkinsons-at-Ichilov-570882).

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative movement disorder which can cause deterioration of motor skills, balance, speech and sensory function. Symptoms can include tremors, stiffness, slowed movement and impaired posture and balance, and worsen over time.

To date, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, but medication and exercise can help mitigate its symptoms. Many studies have shown the benefits of exercise, and physiotherapy is often found helpful, particularly with issues such as balance and walking.

A relatively new Parkinson’s therapy but one showing very encouraging results is Rock Steady Boxing. Boxing is not normally the first sport that comes to mind when anyone, Parkinson’s sufferer or not, is thinking about taking up a physical activity. But according to an expert panel of sports scientists from the United States Olympic Committee, academicians and sports journalists, boxing is the most demanding sport, at the top of a long list that includes football, gymnastics, tennis, cycling and many others. (Unsurprisingly, fishing is the least demanding).

Rock Steady Boxing is an exercise program based on training used by boxing pros and adapted to people with Parkinson’s disease. The program involves regular exercises, such as stretching, bicycling, running, jump-roping, push-ups, balancing and lots of non-contact boxing. All aspects of the boxing training target the areas most affected by Parkinson’s. The program is led by experienced trainers/coaches who have completed the Rock Steady Boxing Certification Training.

Ilene Spark-Greenberg and Evyatar Rotgoltz, both Wingate qualified fitness instructors, run Rock Steady Boxing groups in Raanana. Spark-Greenberg was introduced to Rock Steady Boxing through a friend who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

She explains, “My friend was relatively young when she was diagnosed and it was a shock for everyone. She did a lot of research and came across Rock Steady Boxing as a very effective therapy. At the time it was only available in the U.S.A. I was working as a personal trainer and running classes for kids and adults who just wanted to get fitter, but the idea of working with people with challenges, especially the challenge of Parkinson’s, really appealed. I found that the only training course was in the States, where Rock Steady Boxing started.  So I took some time away from Israel and in 2017 qualified as a Rock Steady Boxing instructor at the world center in Indianapolis.”  

Spark-Greenberg and Rotgoltz run classes for those at the early stages of Parkinson’s (Stages 1 and 2 in the internationally recognized progression of the disease).  They are looking to set up classes for sufferers at levels 3 and 4 of the disease and they also aim to expand to Tel Aviv.

“Both Evyatar and I agree that running Rock Steady Boxing classes is the most rewarding thing we have ever done,” says Spark-Greenberg. “People come to classes as patients, dependent on others for so many daily activities. In a Rock Steady Boxing class they are fighters, with a real feeling of empowerment. There’s also a tremendous feeling of support from others in the group. One woman told me that there are days when her husband doesn’t want to get out of bed, but he will never miss a Rock Steady Boxing class. Another woman, who started out very weak, told me that her doctor said that Rock Steady Boxing is the only thing that is keeping her out of a wheelchair.”

Rock Steady Boxing is recognized by the Parkinson’s Association as an effective therapy for Parkinson’s. Complementary to physiotherapy, people hear about it by word of mouth, or are referred by doctors or physiotherapists.

Comments Rotgoltz: “Rock Steady Boxing is effective for all Parkinson’s sufferers, it doesn’t matter whether they are newly diagnosed or have been living with the disease for decades. And it’s fun too! It’s just so great to see people enjoying themselves while improving their condition.” 

For more information about Rock Steady Boxing, phone
Ilene Spark-Greenberg 052 642 2294 or
Evyatar Rotgoltz 054 808 0149.

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About the author

Barbara Grant

Barbara Grant is a freelance academic editor who previously worked in marketing and PR in the high-tech sector. She made aliyah from the UK in 1996 and lives in Raanana ...
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