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7 Benefits of Bike Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

Posted on August 16, 2023

Exercise is good for the body and mind, especially when living with a chronic condition like Parkinson’s disease. However, tremors and balance issues can make finding safe ways to stay active difficult. Stationary bikes can be a good option at home, in the gym, or during physical therapy appointments.

Depending on your starting fitness level and symptoms of Parkinson’s, you can consider supervised training sessions or a solo workout. Here are seven benefits you can expect from bike therapy.

1. Better Motor Control

Studies have demonstrated that cycling improves motor function and leads to higher scores on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) Motor III Test. Using MRI, researchers discovered that exercise activates parts of the brain responsible for global motor function. So even though cycling involves the legs, it improves motor function in both the upper and lower body.

Cadence (or how quickly you pedal) matters. Motor function benefits were associated with cycling at 80 revolutions per minute. Fortunately, a person can start to realize significant improvements after three exercise sessions, showing that cycling doesn’t take long to start paying off.

2. Improved Balance and Fewer Injuries

A study of 14 people with Parkinson’s found that high-speed cycling on a recumbent bike improved static (staying still) and dynamic (in motion) balance in participants. After riding the recumbent bike two days per week for six weeks under the supervision of a trainer, participants demonstrated better balance overall. Sessions lasted 30 minutes and included a warmup and cooldown. Researchers suggested that these positive changes may help reduce the risk of potentially debilitating falls.

A member of MyParkinsonsTeam described how they use exercise to improve their balance. “For balance, I do physical therapy. My physical therapist is now teaching me boxing,” they said. “Plus, I go to the gym three times a week for the treadmill or stationary weights.”

You can mix cycling with other forms of exercise or keep it as your main activity to stay healthy with Parkinson’s.

3. Healthier Heart

People are typically diagnosed with Parkinson’s around the same average age at which cardiovascular disease also becomes a concern. In addition, some studies suggest that Parkinson’s is associated with higher heart disease rates. Aerobic exercise like cycling is an enjoyable way to raise your heart rate and protect your heart.

The American Heart Association recommends that most adults aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Cycling or bike therapy can be a component of such a high-intensity exercise regimen. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all exercise prescription for Parkinson’s disease. Talk to your health care provider to determine the right physical activity goals for you so you can gain the beneficial effects of exercise.

4. Boosted Dopamine Use

Exercise makes you feel good, physically and mentally. One benefit of exercise is a boost in brain chemicals that promote a sense of happiness and well-being. For some people, exercise is an effective part of treatment for depression. “I find exercise is the best way to keep fatigue at bay. It also helps lift my spirits,” said a MyParkinsonsTeam member.

In addition, studies on mice show promise for Parkinson’s disease. Researchers observed how exercise helps brain cells use dopamine more efficiently. It also prolongs dopamine’s effects, suggesting potential benefits for humans as well.

5. Less Fatigue and Insomnia

Fatigue is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. While you may not have the energy for an extensive workout, sometimes a short bout of activity can help. “I find that regular exercise is a necessity for me trying to handle fatigue,” said a MyParkinsonsTeam member. “I ride my Theracycle every day for an hour or a half hour, and I go to Rock Steady Boxing three times a week for 90 minutes. Sometimes, if I am really fatigued, I make myself ride my Theracycle for at least 15 minutes, and it does recharge me.”

Theracycle is a brand of stationary bike that is designed to improve motor symptoms in people with neurological conditions.

Fatigue can result from poor sleep. Members of MyParkinsonsTeam have reported difficulty sleeping, sometimes because of vivid dreams, involuntary movements at night, or other unknown reasons. “I never had sleep problems until Parkinson’s disease,” said one member. “I get so tired that I fall asleep at 8:30 p.m. and then wake up at 3:30 a.m. I toss and turn until I have to get up to go to work. I have to keep myself busy until 9:30 p.m. or so to get a full night’s sleep.”

A bike ride can be a good way to kick-start your energy levels during the day and may help you get a better night’s sleep by tiring you out. “Chronic fatigue just some days is better than others. But if I can push myself to get out and do something, it seems to help,” shared another member.

6. Enhanced Cognitive Function

There is research showing that people with Parkinson’s disease perform certain mental tasks better while cycling. Tasks involving recall memory, visual processing, and executive function had faster response times when participants were cycling (both in people with Parkinson’s and without). Parkinson’s can make performing two tasks at once particularly difficult. However, cycling seems to have a different effect on mental tasks than other types of exercise, making it easier to think clearly during the activity.

7. Greater Social Connections

Cycling and other forms of group exercise provide opportunities to connect with others. Whether through an online platform for cycling at home or a group class at your local fitness facility, you can meet people with similar interests through exercise.

Ask your neurologist or other health care provider if they know about any cycling programs specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease, or check out Pedaling for Parkinsons. Your local senior center or YMCA may also offer cycling classes in your community. To help support your goals, you can seek out a trainer or physical therapist with Parkinson’s disease experience.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyParkinsonsTeam — the social network for people with Parkinson’s disease and their loved ones — more than 99,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with Parkinson’s disease.

Do you use a stationary bike or other form of exercise therapy to improve your Parkinson’s symptoms? How does your exercise program affect your quality of life? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on August 16, 2023
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Kiran Chaudhari, M.B.B.S., M.D., Ph.D. is a specialist in pharmacology and neuroscience and is passionate about drug and device safety and pharmacovigilance. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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