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Parkinson’s patients knock out disease through WVU program

By Riley Holsinger,


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — When most people connect boxing and Parkinson’s Disease, they think of Muhammad Ali – arguably the most well-known boxer and patient of the disease.

Parkinson’s patients through WVU School of Medicine’s Boxing for Power program are using the sport to exercise and knock out some of the disease’s day-to-day impacts.

“That Parkinson’s diagnosis can be very daunting and a lot of people see it as a life sentence,” program co-founder Cheryl Brandmeir said. “We want to have our takeaway be, it’s not a life sentence.”

Around 10 million people across the world , like 89-year-old program participant Tom Covey, are going the distance against the disease. He says he can’t recall when he first started getting symptoms of the disease.
Covey lands a punch on one of the bags (WBOY – Image)
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“Parkinson’s frequently starts as an aging process, so when someone is getting a little older, [they think] oh well I’m just getting older, but Parkinson’s starts off in that fashion and then you could stiffen up and get balance problems and move along in that way or develop the final symptoms, which can really get after you,” Covey said.

According to Brandmeir, most people that join the program face balance and walking problems at first. She says that some people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease are worried that doing physical activity could increase their risks of falling, but she says the program’s goal is to keep them active.

“A lot of research shows that people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s Disease are not getting enough exercise,” Brandmeir said. “We need about 150 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise and a lot of studies show that those folks are not getting it.”

The class runs twice a week, where participants receive one on one instruction that is adjustable based on their abilities. Patients are in the program with others that are facing the same diagnosis.

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“Over time, most of our patients come out of their shell and we just see that bounce in their step,” Brandmeir said. “We see them get moving, we see that bigger walking step, we see that they start moving faster, we see them turning better, we see them rotating better and just that positive effect of social interaction starting to domino.”

It dominoes into helping patients like Covey win their fight.

“Well, I can do most of the things outside that I couldn’t before I started this,” he said.

Covey isn’t the only success story from the program.

“We see delayed disease progression, which is one of the real main goals of our program and that’s that one thing that we know is that exercise is medicine,” Brandmeir said.
Brandmeir (left) and Covey (right) joke around with one another (WBOY – Image)

Medicine that comes with a little bit of hard work and sweat.

“It’s a fun thing to do and it is a lot of work though,” Covey said.

“The exercises are hard, but they still come back for more,” Brandmeir said.

It’s also a program that Brandmeir and Covey would highly recommend to anyone facing the same bout.

“Anybody who wants to keep active and delay their disability from Parkinson’s Disease or other aging processes should certainly enjoy doing this,” Covey said.

“I highly encourage whatever exercise, whether boxing or something else, do what you love and love what you do, and helping people with Parkinson’s Disease is what I love to do,” Brandmeir said.

For those interested in joining the Boxing for Power program, they can call 304-293-5497.

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