Parkinson's Disease is a progressive neurological condition that impairs coordination and movement, affecting approximately 7-10 million people worldwide. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson's and most of the disease's symptoms are managed through surgical procedures (such as Deep Brain Stimulation), pharmacological methods (like Levodopa) and lifestyle modifications. A recent study conducted by a neuroscientist at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute discovered that one such lifestyle modification could drastically improve Parkinson's symptoms in patients: bike pedaling.
Jay L. Alberts, the primary investigator for the study, first recognized a possible correlation between bike pedaling and reduced exacerbation of Parkinson's Symptoms in 2003. Alberts was participating in a charity bike ride to raise money and spread awareness for Parkinson's Disease. During the charity bike ride, he shared a bike and rode in tandem with a female Parkinson's patient. After completing the race, he noticed that his bike partner "had improvements in her upper extremity function" which sparked his interest in further investigating "the possible mechanism behind this improved function." In fact at the end of the race, his partner stated, "It doesn't feel like I have Parkinson's when I'm on the bike."
To better understand the possible affects that pedaling could have on Parkinson's patients, Alberts and his colleagues at the Cleveland Institute recruited 26 individuals from 30 to 75 years of age, all with a varying degree of Parkinson's symptoms.
The individuals were then divided into two groups: one group that would pedal on a stationary bike at his or her own desired rate and another group that was forced to pedal at an increased rate. The groups pedaled 3 times a week over the course of 8 weeks and had MRI's performed prior to exercise and immediately following. The MRI allowed researchers to determine increased activity levels in the brain as a direct result of the exercise, and they were able to correlate this activity to average pedaling rates.
At the end of the 8 week study, the researchers concluded that individuals in the group required to pedal at a higher rate, had increased brain activity, which promoted brain connectivity, and caused an overall reduction in Parkinson's symptoms. "Some of the benefits we have already seen are improved speech, improved gait and [improved] balance." Although the sample size of the study is relatively small, the results have since sparked additional research studies and movements to investigate the benefits of "pedaling harder" for Parkinson's patients.
In conclusion, although Parkinson's is a progressive, debilitating disease, there are interventions that can be utilized to reduce the exacerbation of symptoms. If you're interested in incorporating a new exercise routine such as daily pedaling on a stationary bike to determine if you might see improvements in your symptoms, speak to your doctor first. As with any exercise program, start slowly and increase your activity as tolerated. Set weekly goals for yourself and track your progress to stay motivated and improve your overall health. If you have any personal stories or experience with Parkinson's and exercise, please feel free to comment below and let us know.
Carlin Longley is a Registered Nurse and entrepreneur who's passionate about helping others.