We’ve all heard the benefits of exercise—weight control, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of diabetes, stronger bones and muscles, and improved mental health. But did you know that biking could also have a beneficial effect on some diseases? According to the National Parkinson Foundation, exercises such as Tai Chi, yoga, walking on a treadmill, and biking have “shown to improve gait, balance, tremor, flexibility, grip strength and motor coordination.” According to their website, “There is a strong consensus among physicians and physical therapists that improved mobility decreases the risk of falls and some other complications of Parkinson’s.”
In 2006 Jay Alberts, a neuroscientist, Cleveland Clinic researcher, and passionate biker rode a tandem bike with a man suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Although the man had a bilateral deep brain stimulation implant meant to control his symptoms, he decided to turn it off for the ride as an experiment. The two men headed out for a 50-mile trek, taking a break 15 miles into the ride. “And I’ll never forget what he said to me,” said Albert. “He looked over and said, ‘Where did my tremor go?’”
Albert had gone on a previous ride with a Parkinson’s patient who had shown an improvement in her handwriting after the ride. These two incidents sparked Albert to begin an eight-week study. “If you give someone their Parkinson’s medication that activates a certain area of the brain or increases blood flow,” Alberts told a Fox News reporter in 2012, “and if you have someone do the forced exercise, you see almost an identical pattern of activation.”
What does this all mean? Well, some patients in the study were able to lower their medication, others regained motion in parts of their body, and still others were able to recover the sense of smell they had lost—a common side effect of Parkinson’s. According to Alberts, the effects lasted “as long as four hours” after exercising. One study from the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project showed that people who exercised for only two and a half hours per week had an increased quality of life. The study noted that “the sooner they begin vigorous workouts after diagnosis, the better.”
It’s important to note that all the people in the study rode a tandem bike—better known as a bicycle built for two. You remember that old song right? “You’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.” If you’re concerned about falling, or you just don’t feel comfortable out in the trails, you can turn any bike into a stationary bike by simply adding a stationary component—called a trainer—to the back wheel. Trainers can be found at any bike store or at most sports and outdoor recreation retail stores, like REI, and they are easy to attach.
So how much exercise should I do if I want to experience benefits? Do I have to do a 50-mile ride? According to the National Parkinson Foundation, “people with Parkinson’s, particularly young onset or those in the early stages, [should] exercise with intensity for as long as possible as often as possible.” That might mean an hour a day every day, or it could mean exercise four times a week. Either way, you should never undertake an exercise regime without first consulting your doctor. You can also contact the National Parkinson Foundation hotline (1-800-4PD-INFO) if you need help explaining to your physician “the importance of exercise so that you and your doctor can put together a plan that will work for you.” It would appear the benefits of bike riding never end. So come on, let’s go ride a bike, oh, and don’t forget Daisy. +
Paul W. Papa is a bike enthusiast and the author of Best Bike Rides Las Vegas and Mountain Biking Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. When not out on the trails, he can be found at www.paulwpapa.com.