COVID-19 affects improvement for Parkinson’s patients; Rock Steady Boxing provides movement to relieve symptoms

Brandywine Living at Princeton resident Liz Lopez, left, with a Rock Steady instructor during a boxing demonstration on April 26.
The COVID-19 virus has been hard on everyone, especially the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, such as those with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
Due to Gov. Phil Murphy’s orders, Retro Fitness of Kingston, located in Princeton, had to close, which meant the Rock Steady Boxing program for those with Parkinson’s did as well.
“[W]e were very worried about the degree of progressiveness it can cause if our boxers weren’t doing any kind of physical exercises during the course of the day. With that in mind, for our last class before shutdown we invited our Parkinson’s primary caregivers, spouses and siblings to come and join us,” said Shelley Mengo, a certified coach at
Rock Steady Boxing of South Brunswick, which is located inside Retro Fitness.
“They were able to participate and see what kind of program they could safely do at home as well as illustrated exercises for range of motion and balance. Since most would not have gym equipment such as weights or exercise bands, they were given modifications for an exercise and whether in class or not we always encourage an open line of communication,” Mengo said.
Exercise is important for anyone as a part of healthy living, but for Parkinson’s patients exercise is more than that.
“It’s a strong dose of medicine. It is a vital component to maintaining a life, their daily activities. It’s about balance, mobility, flexibility and helping with fatigue, which is a common symptom with PD.
“Through a daily exercise routine, studies have shown it can improve many PD symptoms while slowing down the progressiveness,” Mengo said. “Exercising is not always fun so we encourage them to find exercises they like, mix it up bit and go with it.”
As a boxer trains for things like speed, agility and balance, the classes focus on functional movements, hand-eye coordination, alleviating stiffness and increasing strength.
The possibility of virtual classes using a free web conferencing platform is being considered, Mengo said.  
“Although we agree there are benefits, there will be challenges to assess. As coaches instructing classes in person, we are able to monitor our boxers – safety is very important. Everybody with PD has a different limit with exercise. We can determine the best type and amount of exercise one may need to start off with or advance to.
“Having a virtual classroom and not physically being on site, we would need to know our PD boxers have a capable coach/spotter along side them while performing the suggested exercises.
“Making sure of their safety, making sure they are hydrated, and taking proper rest periods are always considered during class. Lastly, there is a liability involved so waivers would have to be signed prior to registering for a class online,” she said.

Mengo’s husband Peter was diagnosed in April 2017 with PD. His symptoms started out as slight hand tremors, but gradually other symptoms were becoming more noticeable, she said. The disease affected his gait, created stiffness and his daily tasks became an effort.

Mengo said her husband was referred to a neurologist who is a movement disorder specialist for Parkinson’s.

While the family was waiting for Peter’s confirmed diagnosis, Ginny Scaduto, who is Peter’s sister, was approached by the CEO of The Parkinson Alliance in Kingston – who is a member of Retro – who asked if she knew anyone who might have Parkinson’s, and informed her about a program called Rock Steady Boxing located in Illinois.

“Peter and I are making the best of this situation,” Mengo said of the novel coronavirus crisis. “He faithfully exercises at least an hour or so each and every day. We also box together. We walk a couple of miles as long as the weather permits. He knows the importance of the words ‘keep moving.’ He lives it each day.”
Rock Steady Boxing of South Brunswick is located at Retro Fitness, 4437 Route 27, Princeton. For more information, visit or call 609-571-6563.
Contact Jennifer Amato at [email protected].