Mention boxing and thoughts of Muhammad Ali toying with his opponents or Mike Tyson pummeling his may come to mind.

Yes, the combat sport in which two people go toe-to-toe exchanging punches can be quite violent and has provided many memorable moments throughout the years. But boxing isn’t just a sport anymore. It’s also a popular way for adults to get or stay in shape through a version known as fitness boxing.

“Fitness boxers” aren’t getting into the ring with a foe and taking punches, so there’s no risk of head trauma or serious injury. Instead, the movements of the sport have been adapted into healthy, calorie-burning exercises.

“There’s a lot of benefits to fitness boxing,” says Carmen Van Rensburg, an exercise physiologist. “Punching bag exercises can help lessen your anger, improve your mood and reduce stress. You are also using muscles in your arms, shoulders, chest, back and legs when striking a punching bag. It’s a great workout both mentally and physically.”

Boxing instructor Ron Sell notes that in addition to stress relief, non-contact boxing workouts “promote overall well-being, including increased agility and weight management.”

“Boxing demands quick thinking and fast reactions, which can improve your agility, reflexes and overall body awareness,” he says. “As the workouts are typically high-intensity and burn a significant number of calories, they are effective for weight management and fat loss, too.”

Fitness boxing also strengthens one’s heart and lungs, therefore improving the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles, Sell says.

“Fitness boxing is cardio that’s actually fun,” adds boxing trainer Andy Stern. “It helps you increase your stamina, strength and improves your heart health.”

Fitness boxing may also be an important activity for those with Parkinson’s and other neurogenerative disorders, according to Stern.

“Boxing for fitness continues to show results in helping to improve balance, endurance, hand-eye coordination and strength, which may be especially beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease,” Stern says. “Research has found that high-intensity exercise may slow the progression of neurological disorders by promoting neural changes in the brain. (Fitness) boxing has received a lot of attention for its potential to help manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including issues with gait, balance and walking. In addition, boxing improves concentration and overall self-awareness.”

Sell points out that fitness boxing increases neural plasticity as it involves complex movements and decision-making.

“It stimulates the brain and encourages the formation of new neural connections,” he says. “It also improves motor skills, balance and coordination and can contribute to greater independence and a higher quality of life for individuals with Parkinson's disease.”

Several boxing programs are designed specifically for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, Sell says. One program known as “Rock Steady Boxing” uses non-contact boxing techniques in a challenging workout. The program begins with gentle stretching and other warm-up exercises and continues with bag work and then footwork drills focusing on balance, agility and coordination. Rock Steady Boxing also includes resistance exercises using body weight, dumbbells and resistance bands to build muscle and maintain overall strength. Sell says participants are instructed to shout while executing boxing techniques to address soft voice syndrome, a common symptom in Parkinson’s patients.

There is evidence to suggest non-contact boxing programs also benefit individuals with other neurodegenerative disorders, including Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS and Alzheimer’s disease, according to Sell.

“Non-contact boxing workouts can be a fun, engaging and challenging way to improve your physical and mental health, regardless of your fitness level or age,” he says. “Moreover, these workouts have shown promise in improving symptoms and quality of life for individuals with neurodegenerative disorders.

“Whether you're looking to boost your cardiovascular fitness, build muscle strength, enhance your mental focus or simply relieve stress, non-contact boxing exercises may be the perfect choice for you.”