A high intensity exercise program using non-contact boxing for people with Parkinson disease has been developed by a team from the Perron Institute and Edith Cowan University.

This was a feasibility study involving community volunteers to show that non-contact boxing can be helpful and safe for people with early-stage PD.

The study was the first to use continual heart rate monitoring and ratified scales of exertion used by sports scientists. Training included quantifiable balance and movement drills, high intensity aerobic bursts and sequences of punches using a Fightmaster training machine.

Participants showed improvements in fatigue levels, sleep quality and a commonly used score of PD severity.

Clinical Professor David Blacker (Perron Institute Medical Director and Consultant Neurologist) is the study leader. He has a personal perspective as someone living with Parkinson Disease.

Exercise, he says, has significantly helped to reduce his symptoms.

With professional fitness trainer Rai Fazio, a former Golden Gloves champion, the team has developed the FIGHT-PD program.

Professor Blacker and Mr Fazio were concerned about injury risk if people with PD undertook boxing exercise training with incorrect, unsupervised techniques. The tailored program now developed is designed to ensure safety and maximise benefits.

“Boxing movements, footwork and balance are excellent for PD because the postures and movements required are almost the exact opposite of what occurs in this disease,” Professor Blacker said.

“Non-contact boxing is a very effective form of high intensity exercise, and most participants find it to be fun.

“It’s a great way to undertake vigorous exercise in a social environment, and Rai Fazio’s expertise and generosity in this partnership have been invaluable.”

Professor Travis Cruickshank of ECU brought his expertise in exercise physiology to the FIGHT-PD program. This has ensured the detailed prescription and measurement of exercise intensity and a careful design to create a mix of physical and cognitive challenges.