SUU Blog | T-Bird Nation

Pre-Physical Therapy Student Leads Initiative to Fight Parkinson’s Disease

physical therapy boxing program cedar cityJens Howe, a pre-physical therapy student at Southern Utah University, has launched a non-contact boxing program to assist people with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The Southwest Parkinson’s Disease Fitness Alliance is operated through the SUU Rural Health Scholars (RHS) program and will hold weekly classes at Snap Fitness, located on Main Street in Cedar City. The classes are tailored specifically to meet the needs of people with PD.

Earlier this year, Howe trained with the international organization, Rock Steady Boxing and certified as a non-contact boxing trainer. He learned how PD affects people and that forced exercise is one of the most effective ways to delay the progression of the disease. With the closest PD exercise facility located over 200 miles away from Cedar City, Howe recognized a community need for a PD program and found a solution.

“I want people locally to know that we’re offering those affected by Parkinson’s Disease a way to fight back,” said Howe. “We are committed to providing the help and resources that can be difficult to find in rural communities like ours.”

Boxing-inspired exercise programs are growing in popularity with men and women of all abilities. Research shows these exercises slow the progression of the disease thus enhancing walking ability, flexibility, balance and overall well-being. To date, no medication has been able to do this.

parkinsons disease fight with boxing local program snap fitnessDan Dail, past department chair of agriculture and nutrition science at SUU, was diagnosed with PD in 2009 and struggled to find an effective activity that helped reduce his symptoms. With a drive to stay positive, Dail explored different therapy options.

“An out of town physical therapist brought boxing gloves to a session one day,” said Dail. “Afterwards, he told me I was one of the fastest guys he’s worked with, and I was hooked.”

Dail researched PD boxing programs in Utah but no local program existed. After finding Rock Steady Boxing in Indiana, he brought his idea to RHS and was connected with Howe.

To gain full benefit from the program, participants need to increase their effort and commitment to the program. Rock Steady Boxing certified coaches like Howe are trained professionals and know not ask someone to exceed their ability. Dail has personally worked with Howe and has seen his work ethic and commitment to the program.

“Jens is one of those rare people who has found the true reward in helping others,” said Dail “He helps out when no one is looking, with no expectation of receiving recognition. He exemplifies the difference between involvement and commitment and will be remembered for his contribution to people with PD in our community and SUU Rural Health Scholars.”

Initially, this alliance will host daily fitness courses involving non-contact boxing and the Lee Silverman Voice Technique-based physical therapy program to assist those battling PD. Future courses will include yoga and stationary cycling, as well as lectures on topics like nutrition.

The opening of the Southwest Parkinson Disease Fitness Alliance is planned for Fall 2017 at Snap Fitness, located on Main Street in Cedar City. Rural Health Scholars volunteers, along with local physical therapists and fitness instructors, will be present to assist participants through structured, purposeful and interactive group classes tailored specifically to those with PD. If you are interested in assisting with this program, contact Karen Ganss at 435-865-8660.