Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center Patients Fight Disease with Boxing Classes

With Celebrity Fight Night just around the corner, patients at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center are sharpening their one-two punch against the disease.

Boxing has been called the most physically demanding sport of all time. Former heavyweight boxing champion and Olympic gold medalist known around the world as “The Greatest,” Ali was arguably the world’s fittest athlete during the height of his career. Pulling a page from its namesake’s book, the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center now offers a boxing fitness class.

photo of phoenix neurologist holly shill

Holly Shill, MD
Barrow Neurologist

Designed especially for people with Parkinson’s disease, the boxing course at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center is intended to help individuals improve their quality of life. As a non-contact fitness activity, boxing enables participants to better their balance, strength, speed, agility, accuracy, hand-eye coordination, endurance, power, and self-confidence. The center’s program, called Knockout Parkinson’s, utilizes classic boxing drills that are similar to the training Muhammad Ali practiced in order to float like a butterfly.

“This year at Celebrity Fight Night we will be celebrating the life of Muhammad Ali, and I think he would be very proud that we are offering our patients this program. While life with Parkinson’s is never easy, the symptoms can be managed,” says Holly Shill, MD, director of the center which is part of the Barrow Neurological Institute at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. “Exercise is the closest thing we have to a cure for Parkinson’s disease. For most patients with Parkinson’s, their coordination is affected, and they will experience stiffness and slowness. Regular, tailored exercise has been shown to help combat these symptoms.”

While the exercises vary in purpose and form, they share one common trait: they are rigorous and intended to extend the perceived capabilities of the participant. Boxing works by moving your body in all planes of motion while continuously changing the routine as you progress through the workout. These classes demonstrate that anyone, at any level of Parkinson’s, can actually lessen their symptoms and lead a healthier and happier life.

For most patients with Parkinson’s, their coordination is affected, and they will experience stiffness and slowness. Regular, tailored exercise has been shown to help combat these symptoms.

-Dr. Holly Shill, Barrow Neurologist

This year’s Celebrity Fight Night is scheduled for Saturday night in Phoenix, and a part of the charity event’s proceeds will go to support the center.  This is the 23rd year of Celebrity Fight Night and the first since the death of Ali last year. An inspiring icon around the world, Ali will be honored at the star-studded event. Ali was a special beacon of hope for people with Parkinson’s disease because he battled the disease with grace and humor. Recognized as a tremendous athlete by many, Sports Illustrated crowned Ali as The Sportsman of the Century in 1999 at their 20th Century Sports Awards recognizing what they dubbed the greatest athletes of the century.

While exercise is an important part of living for everyone, it is especially important for the millions suffering from movement disorders like Parkinson’s. As many as 1 million Americans have Parkinson’s disease and an estimated 10 million people worldwide live with the disease. While incidence increases with age, an estimated four percent of people with Parkinson’s are younger than 50.


About Barrow Neurological Institute
Since our doors opened as a regional specialty center in 1962, we have grown into one of the premier destinations in the world for neurology and neurosurgery. Our experienced, highly skilled, and comprehensive team of neurological specialists can provide you with a complete spectrum of care–from diagnosis through outpatient neurorehabilitation–under one roof. Barrow Neurological Institute: Discover. Educate. Heal.