How Does Exercise Change The Brain?
So what exactly is happening that provides these benefits and decreased symptoms in people with Parkinson's Disease that exercise at a high intensity? There have been many studies including one from University of Southern California by Fisher et. al that looked at what happened to the brains of mice that used a treadmill. They did not find that high intensity exercise increased the levels of dopamine. However, they did find that the mice that exercised on a treadmill utilized dopamine more efficiently than those that did not exercise. The researchers went on to say that they felt exercise had improved the efficiency by improving areas of the brain called the substantia nigra and the basal ganglia. Finally, they found that high intensity exercise in animals increased something called GDNF or glial-derived neurotrophic factor. GDNF decreases damage to the neurons where dopamine is produced.
The bottom line is that high intensity exercise appears to play a protective role for our brain and effects important areas of the brain related to dopamine production. For these reasons (and many others we will talk about later) we can see decreases in the symptoms associated with PD. Although we cannot reverse the disease, these studies are giving hope that we can reduce the impact of PD on people’s lives.
Of all the activities we could have chosen to help combat this disease, why boxing? There are a lot of PD-specific movement programs out there that have been shown to help reduce the symptoms associated with PD used in physical therapy clinics all over the country. Most of them involve a lot of twisting, reaching, and other movements related to daily life. The problem is that these tend to be quite boring after a while particularly for those people who do not have a lot of symptoms yet. We wanted to offer something that would apply to all levels from the day of diagnosis to the people who had PD for 20+ years. We looked around for a long time to find a way to incorporate these very specific physical therapy movements into a more interesting program. There were a couple of groups that had started using boxing as a way to get people exercising. So we thought, why not boxing? It makes you twist and move a lot and is highly modifiable to meet people of all levels. It is also a very high intensity exercise. So it checked all the boxes we were looking for in a program for our unique group: high intensity, a lot of variability, modifiable to all levels, stress reducing, and fun!
Boxing itself involves a lot of cardio, rotation, posture, is certainly high-intensity, and is a lot of fun! No one is getting hit, we hit a variety of punching bags and other targets. People work out very hard and are sweating and smiling after sessions.
Boxing has been shown to increase:
- eye-hand coordination
- strength and power
- body awareness
- speed and agility
In addition to these physical benefits, most people with a diagnosis of PD go through some degree of depression at some point. Exercising hard and hitting the punching bags has really shown to be beneficial and improving mood and satisfaction, not to mention alleviating some stress and frustration.
At the end of the day, boxing has proven to be a very effective training modality that has a ton of variability which helps prevent boredom and has shown to reduce symptoms and improve mood and quality of life. Today, we have people that can exercise for hours a day all the way to people in wheelchairs moving as much as possible and seeing benefits of physical therapy.
Call the clinic today to see how this program can benefit you. Maybe some of the best news, you can use your health insurance!