“Left uppercut! Left uppercut!” yells Joey DeMalavez, Philly tough guy and former pro boxer, as seven neophyte pugilists advance, slicing the air with gloved fists at Joltin’ Jabs, the trainer’s Main Street Manayunk Gym.
Their opponents: in the mirrors in front of them.
“Jab!” DeMalavez orders. For some, there’s a bit of hand tremor, a shuffle to their gait. DeMalavez marvels at their determination. “Amazing.”
All have Parkinson’s disease. For them, non contact boxing is exercise as weapon.
“Feeling in control of your body,” said Bonnie Queen, 69, a psychotherapist in her day job, “translates into feeling in control of your life.”
With or without Parkinson’s.
“Exercise is medicine,” said Kathryn Schmitz, an exercise physiologist at Pennsylvania State University.
Her research has shown that progressive resistance training can prevent and relieve breast cancer survivors’ lympedema, the painful swelling of arms and shoulders due to removal of lymph nodes, and aerobic exercise may reduce breast cancer risk.
Schmitz, a former Martha Graham dancer, believes that medical science has been slow to embrace exercise’s curative powers.
“We are a pill and surgery culture,” she said. It’s what doctors prescribe, and what patients are used to. “Exercise is like a pill,” said Schmitz, who plans to make exercise, diet and sleep a focus of her work at the Penn State Cancer Institute in Hershey, which recently named her associate director of population science.
Stronger Bones. For adults, “walking, stair climbing, running and dancing in combination with weightlifting can increase the strength of your bones,” said Kate E. Temme, an assistant professor of women’s sports medicine at Penn Sports Medicine Center.
For defense against falls, others advocate such balance exercises as yoga and tai chi, as well as such flexibility exercises as stretching.
Healthier pregnancies. In times past, pregnancy was often considered a no-exercises zone. No more – as long as the pregnancy is healthy.
With their doctors’ guidance, many women can follow the same national guidelines for all adults, Temme said. The benefits: less back pain, healthy weight gain during pregnancy, faster weight loss afterward, and lower risk of gestational diabetes.
Lower cancer risk. Exercise, especially at higher levels, is linked to reduced risk of colon, endometrial, breast, and lung cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Some evidence suggests lowered risk for cervical cancer and ovarian cancers as well.
Improved mental health. Research has found that exercise may help ward off and even reduce cognitive loss.
Rutgers University researchers Brandon Alderman and Tracy Shors found that aerobics plus meditation brought substantial relief to clinically depressed adults. Other studies credited weightlifting with curbing depression. Ditto for yoga.
No one is saying that boxing is a cure. No one even knows for sure how it works. But as the fighters at Joltin’ Jabs persevere, many report less depression and more mobility; their facial muscles, frozen masklike by the disease, form smiles.
“Every time I punch the bag, I feel like I’m fighting Parkinson’s,” said retired gym teacher Fred Rosenfeld, 70, a few weeks into his training.
Bryna Spinell, 68, another retired teacher with Parkinson’s, has been training in the program since shortly after it began. She has her own boxing gloves. Pink. She wishes she’d started sooner. “I tell my kids,” Spinell said, ” ‘You have to be active. It will save your life.’ ”
July 1, 2016