January 23, 2012

Relief for Parkinson's Symptoms: Get on that Bike -- Stationary, Tandem, or Regular

EXERCISE: I wish I had a nickel for every time I've written that word on this blog. We know about the benefits of exercise for almost every affliction. I attribute my underlying good health to a lifetime of biking. It was a very sad day when I decided to stop biking because of my Parkinson's balance problems.

I've got a stationary exercise bike in my rec room in front of the TV, but I haven't been using it much. Now several recent reports have touted the benefits of biking for people with Parkinson's. Let's see what might work for me....

Exercise on a Stationary Bike
A recent article in the Washington Post featured the story of 64-year-old Chuck Linderman, who was diagnosed with PD six years ago. Chuck works out – and I mean WORKS OUT – for an hour and a half every day: 30 minutes on a rowing machine, 30 minutes lifting free weights, and 30 minutes on a stationary bike. It’s a sweaty, muscle-building and aerobic regimen, and Linderman’s results are impressive.

Studies support the premise that hard exercise really helps PWPs. According to the Post article:
Preliminary studies show that after eight weeks of cycling three times a week at a pace high enough to break a sweat and raise the heart rate, some patients can recoup much of their mobility for nearly four weeks. After that, gains disappear unless the patient resumes exercising. While it cannot cure Parkinson’s, heavy-duty exercise shows promise for countering, even delaying, the inability to move that the disease causes.
For the full article, see Strenuous Exercise for PWPs

Exercise on a Tandem Bike  
A Parkinson’s researcher at the Cleveland Clinic, Jay L. Alberts recently completed tests on the effects of strenuous cycling. Participants’ motor skills improved generally – not just their leg muscles – and brain scans showed increased blood flow and increased neuron synapses similar to the effects of medication.

The two critical elements of this treatment are high cadence and forced pedaling. Parkinson's patients normally pedal at 40-60rpm. The researchers forced patients to pedal at a sustained rate of 80-90rpm by positioning them on the back seat of a tandem bike, with the front seat rider forcing the faster pace. The PD patients pedaled at this pace for 40 minutes, three times a week.  Take a look:

Exercise on a Road Bike
This amazing video from the Netherlands, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows a severely affected man with Parkinson's who is unable to walk. But he can bike for miles:

After seeing that accomplishment, the Dutch researchers invited 20 other severely affected patients to ride bikes. All 20 did! In spite of the success, the test leaders cautioned PWPs NOT to hop on their bikes and head out onto busy highways.

Here's My Choice -- Bike Interval Workout
None of the options above suit me. I lack the energy, stamina and drive to imitate Chuck Linderman's intense, strenuous workout. I don't have a tandem bike and don't plan to buy one. I might test my ability to do some road biking -- but I'd have to put the bike rack on the car, attach the bike, and drive on busy city streets to an area with very light traffic, like Haines Point. I'm not likely to do all that.

Here's the great thing about internet research: if you don't like your initial results, keep on searching. I hoped to find a stationary bike exercise that was somewhat demanding but didn't require working up a sweat. BINGO:

Great! And perfectly timed! It's the last quarter of the Giants / San Francisco game and I'm headed for the
rec room... the TV... and the bike. GO GIANTS!

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