Welcome everyone to another edition of the Doctor’s Note where we talk about what’s on our minds when it comes to your health. This week I had the opportunity to talk with Zach Guza, Certified Personal Trainer, about his passion for fighting back Parkinson’s Disease through a boxing-based exercise program called Rock Steady Boxing.  

Zach is founder of Black Dog Fitness in Knoxville, TN, located right next door to our new West Knoxville Performance Medicine. I love his story. Zach graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and flew helicopters for the military. When he made the move to civilian life, working a corporate job that pushed him to the limit, he became emotional and physically depressed. He ended up seeing a psychiatrist. The first question she asked him was, “Are you still exercising?” 

This question not only changed the direction of his health, but also his career! Zach started exercising every morning with P90X and absolutely loved how good it made him feel. Small changes can make big differences. Kudos to this psychiatrist! Note: You can’t be a family doctor without seeing anxiety and depression most everyday. The first question I always ask is, “Do you exercise?”. Nothing is going to help you as much as exercise

Zach left his corporate job to become a personal trainer so he could help other people with depression learn how to use exercise to help themselves. After starting his gym, Black Dog Fitness, he learned about Rock Steady Boxing. Rock Steady boxing is a non-contact, boxing-based fitness curriculum that helps people with Parkinson’s disease improve their quality of life.  

Back story: His dad was misdiagnosed with Alzeimers right after he left the military. It was through trial and error that the diagnosis changed to Parkinson’s Disease. The doctors in rural South Carolina told his dad that exercise was too risky. To slow down and be careful. They didn’t want him to fall, but he did. From that fall forward, his dad went to Assisted Living, then to Rehab, then to Hospice.   

Because of his dad, Zach got certified as a Rock Steady Boxing Coach and teaches classes at his gym. His results are amazing! Below are a few things I learned from Zach about Parkinson’s Disease and Boxing. 


The Rise In Cases Of Parkinson’s 


Why is this important to me? For one, I’m starting to see a lot of Parkinson’s in my practice. Also, I just know a lot of people with this disease. In 2022, a Parkinson’s Foundation backed study revealed 90,000 people are diagnosed with PD every year in the US. This is a 50% increase from the previous rate of 60,000 diagnoses annually. The number of people living with Parkinson’s is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2030! This should open our eyes!

Parkinson’s Disease is a double whammy. Your motor movements decline, as well as your mental abilities. It’s degenerative and progressive. Note: There are so many different symptoms. Figuring out what’s age and what’s Parkinson’s can be difficult. For a more detailed list of symptoms on Parkinson’s, check out this post

Experts are almost certain that there is a genetic predisposition. As I’ve said before, “We are all walking around like a loaded gun, and the environment pulls the trigger.” 

What can trigger Parkinson’s?

  • Medications
  • Stress
  • Environmental factors
  • Viruses 
  • Inflammation 

A lot of Parkinson’s patients first start feeling it in their gut, and then it climbs into your brain. Most autoimmune diseases I see start in the gut. This is one reason why it’s so important to eat clean (consume foods rich in nutrient content directly from the earth/not overly processed). 

The main medication for Parkinson’s is Levodopa/Carbidopa. You can see some dramatic results from these medications. The problem is that they are short-acting. It works, and then it works less, so you end up having to take more of the medication. It’s a moving target that you constantly have to chase. Yes, there are drawbacks to these medications, but it certainly slows down the progression of the disease. Note: There are also several newer medications coming out as well. 


Boxing and Parkinson’s Disease 


In my opinion, for any health condition, there is nothing more important than exercise. When I sat down to talk with Zach, I was really excited to learn about Rock Steady Boxing. The Rock Steady Boxing Program can be found all over the world. They can be found in health clubs, hospitals, assisted living facilities, etc.. Basically anywhere there is Parkinson’s, you can find Rock Steady Boxing. 

The founder of Rock Steady started it by accident when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He was told, “You’re never going to feel better than you do right now.” That was very frustrating. One of his friends had a punching bag and told him he could use it if he wanted to. This seemed like a good idea. He could let out some frustration. What he noticed was that when he was punching a bag, he felt better! From that tiny gym in Indianapolis, Indiana, Rock Steady Boxing was born and is now in 900+ affiliate locations in 17 countries around the world.    

The thing about boxing is that it’s much more technical than people realize. There is finesse, style, and rules. It’s also INTENSE! You don’t realize how hard you’re working. As Zach said in our conversation, “When you throw your punch from the floor, everything in your body is working. It’s such great exercise. Three minutes of boxing is a long time!” 

At Zach’s gym, they work on footwork, punching technique, and how to not get hit. He also has a YouTube channel called The Parkinson’s Gym. On this channel you can find tons of different workouts for Parkinson’s that you can do from home. Note: You don’t actually spar, or get hit. It’s just working with bags. The only enemy is Parkinson’s. 

Black Dog Fitness has: 

  • Punching bags
  • Speed bags
  • Focus mitts 

There are other exercises in the program as well, but boxing is a portion of every class. I took a peek inside Black Dog Fitness (next door to our West Knoxville location) and saw a Rock Steady Boxing class in action. Patients that walked in with tremors and shuffling gait walked out with a little more pep in their step and a smile on their face. HOPE. So amazing and encouraging.

If you have Parkinson’s or know a friend who has Parkinson’s, I encourage you to check out a Rock Steady Boxing affiliate near you. Simply go to rocksteadyboxing.org and click on the FIND A CLASS tab. I know I’ll be sending my patients over to Zach’s gym! 

There is hope for Parkinson’s patients! The main thing is don’t give up! There’s always new treatments on the horizon, but until then keep moving! Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. 

Stay educated. Stay healthy.

Till next week.