Great news for you cyclists or wannabes

Study: Biking Restores Brain Connectivity in Parkinson's

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2 NOV 26 2012, 8:25 AM ET 3

Patients pushed hardest showed the most improvement.

James D. Schwartz / Flickr

PROBLEM: It's commonly known that Parkinson's Disease is a chronic, progressive, disease of central nervous system that affects motor ability -- its recognizable early stages are characterized by shakiness and difficulty walking. No cure exists, which is why back in 2003, the best Dr. Jay Alberts of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute rode a tandem bicycle across Iowa with a Parkinson's patient (to raise awareness). Unexpectedly, the patient showed improvements in her condition after the trip. In what now much be common lore at the Institute, Alberts attempted to explain the inexplicable by noticing that his own pace was faster than that of his partner, who was forced, by the cruel mechanics of tandem cycling, to pedal faster in order to keep up.

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METHODOLOGY: Alberts and his colleagues used functional connectivity MRI to study the brains of 26 patients with Parkinson's Disease before and after they engaged in an 8-week exercise program and then, as a follow-up, one month later. Three times a week, the patients worked out on stationary bicycles. The experimental group used a modified bike that, using an algorithm in the place of a super in-shape doctor, would measure their rate of exertion and use it as a basis to push them harder than they would otherwise choose.

RESULTS: What the researchers referred to as "forced rate activity," others might feel is more accurately labeled "torture." But when they calculated the brain activation of the patients forced to pedal past their comfort level, they found lasting increases in connectivity between two areas of the brain responsible for motor ability: the primary motor cortex and the posterior region of the thalamus.

CONCLUSION: Forced-rate bicycle exercise appears to be an effective therapy for Parkinson's disease.

IMPLICATION: The treatment delivered dramatic results, and has the distinction of being inexpensive and accessible. Alberts contends that even those without access to their own algorithm for forced-rate activity may be able to see improvement by using an at-home stationary bike. The next step is to evaluate the possible effects of other forms of exercise, like swimming.

The full study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

12 Replies

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  • I , too read this. I used to cycle a lot but recently found that whilst I can start, and ride well, I have difficulty in stopping and dismounting. This can cause a lot of problems, as you can imagine. I am not looking for a static exercise bike as this was used for the trial. Apart from the boredom, I am hoping this will improve my fitness and maybe help me to lose some weight. Time will tell.

  • Yes, I get you on the boredom thing and I can't do a static bike for that reason. I feel like a hamster on a wheel. I saw right away balance was going to kill me so I got a recumbent 3 wheel trike. You are not falling of that no way!! Now I can ride and and not worry but stopping and balance or falling. And they are like fun as all get out too.

  • HI

    GOOD THT U R STILL CYCLING!!

    U R BRAVE TO BE ON TH EROADS

    I GAVE UP CYCLIGN BUT MUST THINK OF GETTGIN A STATI CBIKE IF IT HELPS (A RECUMBENT ONE IS GOOOD AS IT DOES NOT HURT HTE BAKC

    I EVEN HAD A 2 MINUTE GO ON MY PARTNER'S ROWIWNG MACHIEN YESTERDAY!

    FO RWHEN I CANNOT GE TOUTSIDE FOR A LITTLE WALK IT BUG SME!

    LOL jiLL

    :-)

  • I have a recumbent 3 wheel trike I ride so I am not having any issues with balance or stopping. Just go!!! As for the force pace thing they talk about in the study, having someone setting my pace would make me feel like Ben Hur in that boat, "Ramming speed!!!!!".

  • I can understand that having a partner a lot younger than me. I have to run to keeep up with him in the street! But maybe its whats kept me off meds trying to catch up with his pace in.most things! Im dying to sycle but worried on the balance issue? Any answers? I use stationary bike ok.

  • I have a recumbent 3 wheel trike and you have no balance issues as you are laying back on it. Only way to go I think as balance is a killer and this takes it out of the equation.

  • I wonder if the same would hold true for the upper extremity cycles that use the arms to pump. There are trikes for paraplegics that look very interesting but are very expen$ive.

  • It seem that it would as it all it about getting your heart rate up for a duration of time and keeping it there.

    And yes those hand driven trikes are costly. Fortunately insurance will help pay for most if not all the cost. Now you see why. ;)

  • I hate to sound like an ad, but I love my theracycle. It has a motor on it and makes you go faster than you normally would and when you can't. It's pricy but you can get a loan through a federal credit union that is really great.

  • I participated in the Cleveland Clinic study in Las Vegas in Spring 2011. This was also featured on Inside E Street on PBS. The show is"The Brain Doctors". I was featured in the Pedal Power segment. My symptoms were progressing at that time so my results were not as fa Ora me as others. However, I was sleeping deeper and the false urges at night ceased and I was getting up 2-3 x instead of 4-5x. I'm an advocate of exercise and am still exercising on a regular schedule. I also believe the clinical trial of forced exercise slowed the PD progression.

  • Yes I have seen it and am a believer. One of the reasons I began riding again but got the trike for safety. I could not do a stationary bike for long however, that is by far the bore of all time. "Rode 30 miles today, went nowhere though".

  • The Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia, has an exhibit consisting of a skeleton riding a bike.

    Every joint moves, which means muscles do, too, moving blood and lymph.

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