TITUSVILLE, Fla. – People with Parkinson’s are punching their way to better health.
Turns out exercise is one of the best ways to slow the condition.
We went to a gym in Titusville where this week’s Getting Results Award winner offers classes for people dealing with the disease and he isn’t pulling any punches.
Russ Lewey and his wife, Diane arrive early at the Uppercut Gym in Titusville three mornings a week. The couple unloads their SUV filled with the equipment they’ll need for the one-hour session called Rock Steady.
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“We’re going into our third year working with folks with Parkinson’s,” Russ Lewey said, as he set up stations around the well-worn boxing ring. “It’s an exercise program, a place to come together, work together and play together.”
Rock Steady Boxing is a nationwide nonprofit offering non-contact, boxing-based fitness classes.
“Exercise is the key medicine for folks with Parkinson’s,” Russ Lewey said.
The couple started the Titusville affiliate after moving from Alabama.
“Diane was diagnosed in 2017,” Russ Lewey said. “We learned that just down the street was a Rock Steady boxing coach.”
[INSIDER EXTRA: Hear Russ Lewey explain how Rock Steady boxing helps Parkinson’s patients]
The couple immediately got involved and Russ Lewey got certified as a coach.
When the couple moved to Florida they found Rock Steady gyms in New Smyrna Beach and Melbourne, both were a bit of a drive from their home in Titusville. That’s when they discovered the county-owned, Fighting Edge Gym that wasn’t being used during the day.
“We started right up,” Russ Lewey said.
Diane Lewey said the exercise program has made a difference.
“I’m doing pretty well,” Diane Lewey said. “I keep up with the exercise and it always seems to help me with balance and coordination.”
The class starts with a stretching exercise.
Everyone at the gym knows him as Coach Bomber.
“Everyone has a nickname,” Russ ewey said, explaining that it’s a way to encourage the boxers to embrace their alter ego. “I flew bombers for 10 years of my career so it seemed like a natural fit.”
“Diane’s nickname is Petra. It’s Greek for rock,” Russ Lewey said. “Diane has Parkinson’s but when she walks through that door she’s a fighter.”
Bill Alderman goes by “The Kid.”
“I’m 58 years old so I’m borderline early onset,” Alderman said. “This helps with the off periods and the on periods. On periods are when our medicine is kicking in.”
Most boxers here said the exercise provides temporary relief from some symptoms.
Alderman and about a dozen other boxers rotated their way around the stations Lewey has set up. Some work at the speed bags, others spend their time at stations designed to test their cognitive skills. There’s even a writing challenge.
A bell rang and Alderman slammed his fists, wrapped in thick red gloves, against a heavy bag. The short burst of energy takes his breath away.
“Just a minute is all we’re doing,” Alderman said, trying to catch his breath. “I try not to leave anything on the floor here.”
Russ Lewey said the general public doesn’t understand how prevalent Parkinson’s Disease is. He said class sizes range from a few boxers some weeks to about a dozen on a busy day but there’s room for more students and more classes. His hope is to add coaches so he can expand.
“A lot of folks with Parkinson’s think they’re alone. They’re not,” Lewey said. “These type of programs are important. But more importantly, is that folks know that they can reach out and get in touch with other support groups or exercise programs.”
There are about 900 Rock Steady affiliates around the world and nearly a dozen in Central Florida including locations from Ocala to Melbourne. For a complete list visit the Rock Steady Website.
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