MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Jack Noble has noticed two positive changes in his body since attending the Rock Steady Boxing class at MetroFitness: his breathing, and his stamina.

The 85-year-old was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease four years ago, and in this new class brought to the east Montgomery fitness center that focuses on strength, balance and agility, Noble appreciates it for its movement and for "really feeling like I'm getting a workout."

With more than 10 million people worldwide living with Parkinson's disease — 60,000 Americans are diagnosed every year — exercise has been proven to help alleviate the symptoms of the disease, as it improves strength, balance and stability.

In the Rock Steady class, participants — who are in their 50s through 80s — are referred to as athletes as they lift bars, throw balls, hold plank positions, and hit punching bags.

And for some, as they stand up from their wheelchair for the first time in a long time.

"It puts me in the best mood, because for me, personally, I feel like we are helping them have a better quality of life," said Leigh Anne Richards, MetroFitness general manager. "Just the things that we try to do in that class. Putting stuff down, picking it up. Those are the things that they have to do every single day.

"One of the things I've noticed about them is that they have more confidence. The other thing is they are having so much fun. They are smiling, laughing, joking. It is the camaraderie. They are with people who have the same symptoms that understand what they are going through."

About the program

Rock Steady Boxing, the first boxing program of its kind in the country, was founded in 2006 by former Marion County (Indianapolis, Indiana) Prosecutor, Scott C. Newman, who lives with Parkinson's.

Newman began intense, one-on-one, boxing training just a few years after he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's at the age of 40, and witnessed the improvement in his physical health, agility and daily functioning through the intense and high energy workouts, according to the Rock Steady website.

"He just took it on himself to start boxing," Richards said. "He noticed after he finished the boxing he would take off his gloves and his hands were not shaking. He had no tremors.

"So, hence, he would say, 'My hands are rock steady.'"

There are 457 Rock Steady Boxing programs round the world, with almost 23,000 participants.

Daniel Gammage wishes more facilities would offer the class.

The 70-year-old was diagnosed with Parkinson's four years ago. Gammage said he used to swim, cycle and run, and "Steady" workouts give him some of his stamina and strength back.

"My balance was the big thing," he said, "because I'm not able to walk real well. And, of course, my voice."

By the numbers

Incidence of Parkinson's increases with age, but an estimated 4 percent of people with PD are diagnosed before the age of 50. Men are one and a half times more likely to have Parkinson's than women, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.

The main symptoms of Parkinson's include uncontrollable shaking and tremors, slowed movement, balance difficulties and eventual problems standing up and stiffness in limbs, according to Health Line.

The combined direct and indirect cost of Parkinson's, including treatment, social security payments and lost income, is estimated to be nearly $25 billion per year in the United States alone.

Medications cost an average of $2,500 a year and therapeutic surgery can cost up to $100,000 per person, according to the Parkinson's Foundation.

Only about 10 to 15 percent of all cases of Parkinson's are thought to be genetic forms of the disease (monogenetic). The other 85 to 90 percent of cases are classified as sporadic (or occasional).

How exercise benefits

An exercise program for people living with Parkinson's should include flexibility stretches, aerobic activity, and resistance training or strengthening exercises, and can be accomplished through activities including biking, running, yoga, Pilates, non-contact boxing and weight training.

And it is all encouraged at MetroFitness.

"We don't let them say, 'I can't, I can't,'" she said. "Yes, you can. We can always show them modifications, but yes, you can. Confidence is the biggest thing."

Judy Keating observed the Rock Steady class while her husband, Mike, participated. Diagnosed with Parkinson's three years ago at the age of 80, he is able to continue driving and live day-to-day without assistance.

"I think this class would be helpful for everyone," she said. "Because the coordination between the activity and the thinking and the brain is very healthy for anybody, but especially for the Parkinson's people because it takes your thinking process out and you're doing it automatically.

"But we know that (the disease) is a slow deterioration of the skills."

Patients with all levels of Parkinson's — from the beginning stages to more advanced — attend the MetroFitness class, which Richards said is in need of volunteers.

"When we have the wheelchairs, then you have to have one-one-one" with athlete/volunteers, she said. "People don't have to have fitness experience. You just have to jump right in there."

Keating said her husband works out six days a week, and there have not been many signs of disease progression.

"The exercise is the most important thing to keep the symptoms slowly developing," she said.

Rock Steady classes

The classes meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. until 12:45 p.m. For more information, or if you want to volunteer in a class, contact MetroFitness at 396-0040, email at metrofitness@rsbaffiliate.com or visit online at www.metrofitness.com.

For more information

To learn more about the Rock Steady program, visit online at www.rocksteadyboxing.org

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Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com