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A Pastor with Parkinson’s Uses Boxing to Heal

A retired minister, who years before gave up boxing, gets to put on the gloves again as a way of coping with Parkinson’s disease.

Emmett Diggs puts up his dukes

It’s natural to feel loss and sadness with a diagnosis or progression of Parkinson’s disease (PD). But as retired minister Emmett Diggs shared in his story of recovery through boxing with Rock Steady Boxing in the July 2018 issue of Guideposts, you can live well with PD. We talked to therapists and patients at Good Samaritan Society in Mountain Home, Arkansas, about other programs that have shown promising outcomes for people who have PD.

Drums Alive, a group fitness class that combines full-body movements with drumming, has sparked great results for people with PD. “One gentleman, 15 minutes into class, found his tremors would stop,” says wellness director Bethany Clark. There’s mounting evidence that exercise, particularly if it involves cognitive engagement, promotes neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to compensate for cells damaged or lost to PD. Drumming to changing musical and rhythmic cues stimulates both hemispheres of the brain. Plus, as Clark points out, it’s fun! Find a class near you at

LSVT BIG addresses PD’s motor impairments, such as slowness of movement, limb stiffness and problems with gait. Patients work one-on-one with a physical or occupational therapist four times a week over four weeks doing exercises customized to their symptoms. “With Parkinson’s, movements become small,” says physical therapist Crissy Ward. “LSVT BIG retrains the brain and the body to do things in bigger movement patterns. I’ve seen patients get their lives and hope back.” Everette Brooks is among them. “I couldn’t get out of a chair, pick things up off the floor, step off a curb,” he says. “Now I can do all of those and more. Parkinson’s can be so depressing. This program is a ray of light.”

LSVT LOUD treats the speech problems of PD through a four-week, 16-session program of vocal exercises. “As Parkinson’s progresses, the voice diminishes,” speech therapist Casey Drennin says. “It gets soft, hoarse, mumbled. I teach patients to overcompensate vocally so they sound normal to others.” One of her patients used to sing in his church choir. “He got to where he couldn’t hold a note,” Drennin recalls. “I had him read hymn lyrics and Bible verses aloud. At the end of four weeks, he sang for me!” Sara Leech, who’s lived with PD for eight years, says the two LSVT programs have helped her “move big, talk big, think big. And be more positive.” To find a certified LSVT clinician in your area, go to

Visit to see Everette Brooks and others with PD doing their LSVT exercises, and to hear stories and music from Drums Alive participants.

For more inspiring stories, subscribe to Guideposts magazine.

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