More than 100 Albertans living with Parkinson’s disease are fighting back against their symptoms by lacing up a pair of boxing gloves, getting in the ring, and throwing jabs and uppercuts.

The program offered by Parkinson Alberta matches up individuals with the long-term degenerative disorder and boxing coaches in five cities across the province. They practice specialized workouts that focus on improving balance, hand-eye co-ordination and strength.

“I just feel better. I feel so good when I come here. The minute I walk in the door. I’m like a different person almost,” Audrey Gagnon told CTV Edmonton.

Parkinson’s disease affects motor functions and deprives the brain of dopamine. When dopamine is reduced, messages from the brain to nerve cells aren’t properly transmitted, resulting in tremors, rigidity and slowness.

New research released last month by Université du Québec in Montreal found physical activity was the most effective way to improve limb strength, endurance, flexibility, and motor control, as well as cognitive functional capacity for people with Parkinson’s.

Brian Overland has young-onset Parkinson’s. He’s 48 years old, but says the disease has left him feeling like a much older man. Striking his coach’s focus pads helps him feel more his age.

“It’s really helped with the movement. With Parkinson’s you really have to concentrate on what you are doing. I haven’t felt this way in years,” he said.

“He said (Overland) for the hour-and-a-half that we are here, he forgets that he has Parkinson’s, so that to us as coaches … we’re doing something right,” said Jorge Ravanal.

The program started in the U.S. 10 years ago with a man living with Parkinson’s who noticed how boxing dramatically improved his health. Parkinson Alberta plans to fight to make it available to as many people as possible in the New Year.

“We’re accomplishing something special and we’re helping people,” said Ravanal.

With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Carmen Leibel