Time and again, I’m struck by how resilient many in this community are – facing down adversity while arming yourself with useful tools – such as education, community, support, all while embracing lifestyle modifications to help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. One such lifestyle modification that has been shown to be beneficial is regular exercise, and in particular, bicycling.
You might think that cycling as a form of exercise is counter intuitive for anyone who may be prone to balance concerns – but this low-impact aerobic exercise has many potential benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease. Add in appropriate safety features and adaptive equipment and you might be ready to try a spin around the neighborhood!
Improved Motor Function
One of the hallmark symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is difficulty with movement, which can manifest as stiffness, rigidity, tremors, and slow or shuffling gait. Research has shown that cycling can improve motor function and alleviate some of these symptoms. For example, a 2011 study published in the journal NeuroRehabilitation found that cycling improved gait and reduced tremors in people with Parkinson’s disease. Another study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that cycling at high intensity actually improved balance and reduced falls in people with Parkinson’s disease.
The benefits observed are likely due to several factors. First, cycling provides a low-impact workout that is gentle on the joints and muscles, which is important for people who may be more susceptible to injury. Second, cycling requires coordination and balance, which can help improve these skills and, finally, the repetitive, rhythmic exercise is thought to help improve motor control and muscle memory.
Increased Cardiovascular Fitness
In addition to improving motor function, cycling can also help improve cardiovascular fitness. Cardiovascular fitness refers to the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen and nutrients to the muscles during physical activity. Improved cardiovascular health has several benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease. For example, it can improve endurance and energy levels, which can help with daily activities such as walking, shopping, and household chores. It can also reduce the risk of fatigue and improve cognitive function, including attention, memory, and executive function.
Mental Health Benefits
Exercise in general has a positive effect on mental health, and cycling is no exception. Regular exercise can improve mood, reduce anxiety and depression, and enhance cognitive function. Bonus points for being outdoors where nature also exerts her positive influence! Whether cycling solo or in a group, participants experience a sense of independence and freedom, which can boost self-esteem and confidence.
Social isolation and loneliness are common among people with Parkinson’s disease, and regular exercise provides an antidote with opportunities for social interaction and support. Cycling clubs and events provide an opportunity for people with Parkinson’s disease to connect with others who share similar interests and challenges. Group cycling events can also provide a sense of camaraderie and motivation to stick with an exercise routine.
If you are interested in trying bicycling as a form of exercise for Parkinson’s disease, it’s important to first check with your healthcare provider to ensure the activity is safe and appropriate for you. Once you get a green light, you will want to start slowly and gradually increase intensity and duration. Remember, no one starts anything new as an expert!
Choose a safe and comfortable bike that is appropriate for your fitness level and abilities. A recumbent bike may be a good option for people with balance or mobility issues, as it provides a low-impact workout in a seated position. Many bike shops carry recumbents or adaptive modifications and may provide a trial or short-term rental while you explore what works best for you..
In addition to choosing the right bike, please give care to assemble and wear appropriate safety gear, such as a helmet and small repair kit, and to follow traffic rules and regulations. Cycling in a group or with a partner can also provide an added layer of safety and social support – we hope to see you on the road!
“The effects of cycling on gait and tremor in Parkinson’s disease” by Alberts JL et al. published in NeuroRehabilitation in 2011.
“Aerobic exercise improves mood, cognition, and language function in Parkinson’s disease” by Ridgel AL et al. published in Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair in 2012.
“Effects of exercise on non-motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease” by Schenkman M et al. published in Clinical Therapeutics in 2013.
“Cycling for Parkinson’s disease: does aerobic intensity matter?” by Ellis T et al. published in the Journal of Sports Sciences in 2013.
“Exercise in Parkinson’s disease: an overview of the evidence” by van Nimwegen M et al. published in Journal of Parkinson’s Disease in 2011.