Parkinson’s disease a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system, and the nervous system controls all of our body’s movements. Symptoms often start very gradually with Parkinson’s disease and progress until the individual loses total control. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease, which means that the symptoms will worsen with time.
Even though there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, doctors have found various ways of controlling some of the symptoms. Doctors are prescribing medicine and specific aerobic exercises to help combat this disease and reduce the symptoms. The FDA-approved medications work to slow the spread of the degeneration and control the symptoms, whereas aerobic exercises can do far more.
Bike therapy, a form of aerobic exercise, has been shown to reduce overall Parkinson’s symptoms. It decreases the severity of the symptoms and increases a person’s overall mobility.
What is Bicycle Therapy?
Bicycle therapy is much more than hopping on a bike and pedaling for 30 minutes to work up a sweat. Instead, bicycle therapy is a form of forced exercise, which form a treatment where people with Parkinson’s disease are forced to exercise at a rate and duration more significant than what they could do on their own.
For instance, if the individual with Parkinson’s disease can normally pedal at a rate of 50 rpm, then the exercise’s goal would be to push them to pedal at a speed of 70-80 rpm. At first, forced exercise comes off as cruel, seeing as the person is being pushed to work harder than they believe they can. But in reality, the individual is being pushed to a safe level of exercise. When this is performed on a stationary bike, they are not at risk for falling or hurting themselves and instead see significant benefits.
What are the Benefits of Bicycle Therapy?
Bicycle therapy does not cure anyone of Parkinson’s disease. Instead, it is a form of exercise that helps them utilize their cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease often struggle with movement, and due to this, they find it hard to exercise and strengthen their cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems.
When these systems are underused, they begin to waste away or degenerate, which can worsen Parkinson’s disease symptoms. When individuals perform bicycle therapy, they use their cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system, which helps to reverse the wasting or degeneration occurring. As individuals with Parkinson’s disease use bicycle therapy, they are forcing their body to work, which helps decrease their overall symptoms and helps out in many other ways.
Here are a few of the most common benefits from bicycle therapy:
- Increased Flexibility
- Improved Gait (how well you walk)
- Reduction in Falls
- Reduced Bradykinesia
- Improvements in Cardiovascular Endurance
- Improvements in Muscular Endurance
- Improvements in Sleep
- Improvements in Working Memory/Decision Making
- Improved Attention and Concentration
- Reduction in Depression and Anxiety
Are There Adverse Side Effects to Bicycle Therapy?
Unlike prescription medications whose side effects could fill a book, bicycle therapy’s side effects are non-existent. Bicycle therapy is a form of exercise, so its main side effects are muscle fatigue and sweat during the activity, both of which are entirely safe.
Indeed, there are no adverse side effects that come from performing bicycle therapy. The primary safety concern for individuals with Parkinson’s disease when performing exercise is their stability and ability to perform the exercise.
One of the most common ways individuals with Parkinson’s disease gets hurt when they fall due to their decreased mobility and stability. Seeing as mobility and strength are two significant concerns, it’s easy to be skeptical of riding a bike as it requires someone to have decent mobility and stability. This is why doctors or physical therapists recommend that individuals with Parkinson’s disease ride a stationary or tandem bicycle when performing bike therapy.
Stationary and tandem bicycles significantly reduce the mobility and stability needed to keep the bike up-right and allow for the individual to focus on pedaling and exercising.
When Should You Start Riding?
Even though bicycle therapy is exceptionally beneficial and relatively safe for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, everyone should speak with their physician before beginning any exercise regime. Your physician knows your medical history and any limitations you may have, and they are best suited to give you the ok to start.
Once you have received the ok from your doctor, it’s best that you start your bicycle therapy on a stationary bike and not on a standard road bike. Stationary bikes are much safer than road bikes, but their single most important factor is they provide stability to keep you upright and pedaling.