It’s probably symptomatic of our celebrity culture that many people tend to associate diseases not with symptoms, but with famous people. For example:
- Multiple Sclerosis is what Richard Pryor and Annette Funnicello had;
- Muscular Dystrophy is what Jerry Lewis held his telethons for;
- Terminal Narcissism and Verbal Diarrhea is what 90% of politicians and reality show stars have…
With Parkinson’s Disease, two names that spring immediately to mind are Michael J. Fox and The Greatest, Muhammad Ali. In Ali’s case, the diagnosis of Parkinson’s came a few years after his boxing career ended.
And while there is some debate as to whether his years in the ring bore any responsibility for his disease, one boxing coach is using the sport as a form of therapy for Parkinson’s patients.
Dean Eoannou of the University of Buffalo trains his clients in non-contact boxing, which focuses less on floating like a butterfly or stinging like a bee and more on aerobic activity, balance, strength training, and other activities that may help produce more dopamine in the brain (or at least trick the brain into thinking it’s getting dopamine).
Parkinson’s kills off dopamine cells in the brain.
Until recently it was thought once these cells were gone, they were gone for good. Recent studies suggest otherwise. And while there may not be a definitive connection, anecdotal evidence suggests that, for some patients, it’s making a real difference.
Eoannou and some of his clients are noticing that difference. At a minimum, training Parkinson’s patients has made him reassess what’s important in his own life and what a champion really looks like. I have to think that Ali himself would say that’s a knockout combination.