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James Parkinson, a member of England’s Royal College of Surgeons, wrote “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy” in 1817. He described the disease now bearing his name as “involuntary tremulous motion, with lessened muscular power, in parts not in action and even when supported.”

A more contemporary definition describes Parkinson’s disease as a neurodegenerative disorder with slowly developing symptoms in a deterioration of motor skills, balance, speech and sensory functions. Tremors, fatigue, difficulty moving and sleeping, dizziness, anxiety, depression, loss of smell, constipation, a softer voice, an expressionless face and poor posture are common.

Billy Lyell knows the effects of Parkinson’s disease from a special perspective. The former professional boxer, co-founder and trainer at the Sweet Science Boxing and Fitness Gym in Naples is certified to teach boxing to students who have the disorder. The national program is called Rock Steady Boxing.

The concept was founded in 2006 by former Indiana attorney Scott Newman, a Parkinson’s patient, and his friend Vince Perez, a former Golden Gloves boxer. Perez believed the exercise benefits of boxing might be neuro-protective and slow the disease’s progression. The specified training now has 850 affiliate programs in 17 countries; instructors have to study the disease and the ideal ways to assist patients with specialty routines. Classes are designed to improve balance and coordination through quick and repetitive boxing combinations, core workouts, hitting heavy bags and circuit weight training. 

“I tell people, every time you throw a punch, imagine you have a magnet on your chin,” says Lyell, who owns the gym with his wife Jessica, also a trainer. “Every time you throw a punch, your hand has to come back to your chin. That in itself, working on the coordination, the muscles, helps. And your feet have to coordinate with your arms and with your punches. There’s a lot to it.”

Like many fitness boxing instructors, Rock Steady Boxing specialists use a counting system. Parkinson’s patients count different types of punches thrown consecutively. It’s always boxing for a solo fitness workout, never with an opponent. 

“You start counting, 1-2-3, 4-5-6 … it’s just good for the brain,” Lyell says. “It starts rewiring circuits. One is my left jab, two is my straight right hand and three is my left hook. I say 1,1,2,3 to somebody, the brain starts firing and making connections.”

He’s a strong believer in the program’s potential for aiding patients. “I have seen so many things,” says Lyell. “One thing I have learned from boxing is that I don’t think anything is impossible. I just think we have capabilities beyond our understanding in terms of healing things and … just getting healthier.

“I have had people walk in this gym on walkers, and they’re doing squats on a Bosu (fitness) ball a few months later. The balance, the coordination—you are just working on everything. It’s the hands; it’s the feet. It’s your movement. It’s phenomenal what it does. It’s almost like it rewires their brains. What I learned from boxing is that anything is possible.” 

Rock Steady 

Boxing In Southwest Florida

Armstead Fitness

12951 Metro Parkway, 

Fort Myers


Florida HIIT Factory

2349 Vanderbilt Beach Road #510, Naples


The Sweet Science Boxing & Fitness Gym

4270 Tamiami Trail E, 

Suite #13, Naples



5450 YMCA Road, 

Suite #100, Naples


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