For more information on living well with Parkinson’s, visit the Parkinson’s Europe website.
“Boxing keeps me going”
Author: Sophie ParrottPublished: 23 February 2023
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We hear from Janette Sinclair about helping to launch activity centre Action Parkinson – and how its boxing classes are helping to support the Parkinson’s community in Belgium
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your experience of Parkinson’s.
I have lived permanently in Brussels, Belgium, for 20 years. Before that, I was a civil servant in the UK, where I’m from. Since 2007, I’ve worked in human resources. I’ve worked particularly on special educational needs, disability issues and social policy, as well as with pensioners – which turned out to be really interesting work. I have enjoyed what I’ve done.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013. It was a big shock. By the time of my diagnosis, I was so exhausted that I had few interests outside of work and family life. It was a big deal to take up a hobby. I tried to learn the trumpet, but I could not get a single note out, so I moved on to piano, which I had played at school and then not touched for over 30 years.
I now take lessons at a local music academy, and I love it! Playing an instrument is so good for my condition. Music can be a cognitive challenge that involves keeping the beat, coordinating hands and pedals, and playing with feeling.
Can you tell us about Action Parkinson and what it aims to achieve?
I helped set up Action Parkinson, an activity centre in the Brussels region of Belgium that opened in 2019. It was created by and for people with Parkinson’s who wanted a dedicated space for meeting others and somewhere to organise regular physical activities for the community. It became a reality thanks to a patron, Alain Mallart, who also lives with the condition.
We try to offer a safe space where people can come and meet one another. Additionally, we try to put on a range of activities that are recommended for people with Parkinson’s. We have Nordic walking, Tango dance classes and gymnastics, as well as singing, arts and crafts and cognitive games. Partners are welcome at all the classes, but boxing is the main one that a couple of partners regularly attend.
Can you tell us about the boxing classes that are on offer?
We started to run a boxing class when our centre first opened, and it has maintained a core of people who come every week. To meet growing demand, we introduced a second class last year.
Boxing was something I was keen to do. We were eventually able to find a boxing coach that could teach classes at Action Parkinson, and we have had several coaches over the years. Since 2021, we have worked with the former professional lightweight boxer Carel Sandon. Our trainer is really good at incorporating and supporting people with limited physical movement, as long as they can stand unaided for periods of time.
These workshops are for all people with Parkinson’s, in both early and later stages of the condition, who might experience rigidity or more pronounced bradykinesia (slowness of movement).
What does a typical boxing class involve?
When we get into the class, we start with shoulder, neck and arm exercises to get us moving. We do various exercises that involve squatting because exercising the thighs can help with core balance. Once we feel a bit more warmed up, we do some shadowboxing (sparring with an imaginary opponent as a form of training). This gets us used to the positions and stances and reminds us to keep our guard up, to get us ready for putting the gloves on.
Throughout the class, we’ll practice activities with the coach. For example, he’ll have the paddles on, and we’ll try hitting them. When one person is practising with the coach, everyone else is supposed to be shadowboxing to make sure they know what they’re doing. We might also do this in pairs.
When we get to the end of the session, we each have ‘a minute in the ring’ where we do a bit of sparring with the coach. We finish with a cool-down stretch. It’s a very full hour, but our coach makes us laugh a lot.
How can boxing support people with Parkinson’s?
It’s very good exercise. Classes are nice as well because they involve working with a good group of people. Some of the potential benefits of boxing might include improved coordination, development of muscle strength and increased self-esteem.
Recently, a new person came to the class. At the start, he was sitting down, seemingly stiff and not very mobile. Then class started, and as he started trying to make the right movements, a huge smile came over his face. It was as though he could feel himself cutting through the mud that we so often wade through with our movements. It wasn’t an easy ride, but he just had this grin on his face.
Boxing keeps me going. I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage others to take it up, as long as they are careful. My message to other people with Parkinson’s is this: find activities that do you good. There’s no point spending time doing something you don’t enjoy because you’ll likely drop it before long. If you find something you like to do, it might help you through the harder times.
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