When a friend was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Virginia Larioza of Ohana Karate in Howell remembered hearing about a boxing program that was supposed to alleviate symptoms. And a short time later, she added Rock Steady Boxing, a nationally-acclaimed program, to the schedule of classes being offered at the Ohana dojo, now located at 4174 E. Grand River Ave. in the Country Corners Shopping Center in Howell.
“We already had 90 percent of the equipment, and open slots for class in the afternoon, which is a perfect time for Parkinson’s patients,” Larioza explained.
The program was also a perfect fit for Larioza, who has an interest in special populations and helping people maintain fitness and quality of life.
Rock Steady Boxing is a non-profit organization that offers boxing-based fitness classes. The organization was launched in 2006 by an attorney with Parkinson’s disease, who realized that boxing training focused on many of the physical attributes that Parkinson’s patients often struggle with: balance, agility, footwork, endurance, and hand-eye coordination.
When Larioza contacted the local Parkinson’s support group, she discovered that the closest Rock Steady gyms were located in Lansing and Novi. For individuals with Parkinson’s, the distance was a deterrent as they often relied on a spouse, friend or other caregiver to transport them. And to get the most benefit from the workout, they needed to participate at least three days each week.
But the benefits are significant. Rock Steady accepts patients with all levels of the disease, from minimal symptoms to those in wheelchairs. Results, of course, will vary, but can range from symptom reduction to slowing disease progress; some patients have regained physical abilities they thought were long gone. What they all gain, however, is a sense of support.
“The biggest benefit is the camaraderie among the boxers,” Larioza said. “There’s a lot of laughter and connection.”
Depression and isolation are common in Parkinson’s patients, and participants in the Rock Steady programs are immersed in a positive, encouraging environment, with workouts tailored to their specific needs.
There are no “drop-in” classes — boxers must be evaluated by program staff before starting the program so their workout can be developed specifically for them. Each individual works and progresses at their own pace during the 90-minute class.
While the recommended schedule for best results is three days each week, Larioza says that most patients come four days each week when they can. She hopes to add more classes to the schedule in the near future to accommodate younger Parkinson’s patients who may still be in the workforce, and she is always looking for volunteers to train and assist with classes.
For more information on Rock Steady Boxing at Ohana Karate, or to schedule an evaluation, contact Virginia Larioza at (517) 294-5598.