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Read Time 10 min

The Many Reasons Why Cycling Helps Parkinson’s

The benefits of cycling with Parkinson’s have been shown scientifically.

Now would be a good time to sign up for that spin class. Or if taking a ride through the countryside with friends or family is more your speed, that works too. Just get on a bike and see how you like it.

Think back to your childhood in the summertime when you used to ride bikes with your friends.

Do you remember that exhilarating rush of coasting downhill on a bike with the breeze blowing in your hair? And the only responsibility you had was getting home in time for supper? Those were the days!

If you haven’t ridden a bike since you were a kid, you might consider reliving some of those childhood memories.

You probably already know about the health benefits of exercise for Parkinson’s. After all, there have been countless research studies conducted over the years that link cardio exercise to improvement in symptoms of PD.

But what you may not know is that many of those initial studies involved having participants cycle on stationary bikes.

In fact, experts believe cycling in particular can help increase certain proteins in the brain that help with movement and cognitive function – making it one of the most beneficial activities for keeping Parkinson’s symptoms in check.

That’s a pretty compelling reason to hop on a bike and go for a spin around your neighborhood, don’t you think? Bonus: you would gain major brownie points with your kids or grandkids.

The science behind Parkinson’s and cycling

Dr. Jay L. Alberts, a neuroscientist at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute in Ohio, first got the idea that cycling might improve symptoms of Parkinson’s at a fundraising event in Iowa in 2003.

Alberts rode tandem with a female Parkinson’s patient named Cathy, whose symptoms improved after the ride – specifically her handwriting. As Cathy wrote postcards to her family from across Iowa, he noticed her handwriting had become more legible.

This discovery inspired him to conduct a research study with two groups of Parkinson’s patients cycling on stationary bikes three times a week for two months.

One group pedaled at their own chosen speed, while another group pedaled at a more vigorous rate than what they would ordinarily choose for themselves. The more vigorous group of cyclers appeared to have greater improvement in regions of the brain that deal with movement.

The moral of the story is: The harder your pedal, the better the results!

With or without PD, cycling is just plain good for us

What has two wheels and can increase balance, flexibility and joint mobility; improve posture and coordination; strengthen bones and muscles; and decrease body weight and stress levels? You guessed it – a bicycle!

Besides strengthening your heart and lungs, lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure, burning obscene amounts of calories, improving your immune system and boosting your mood, cycling helps counter brain shrinkage and maintains healthy connections between the brain and physical body.

Think you’re only giving your legs a workout when you hop on a bike? Think again! Biking works the deltoid muscles in your shoulders, as well as the biceps and triceps in your upper arms.

Both muscle groups are activated when you grip onto the handles of the bicycle – even more so when you’re on an incline and leaning forward as you’re riding.

Cycling is also a great exercise for building your abs and strengthening your core, which improves your balance and coordination.

To maximize the muscle-building benefits of cycling for your abs and core, engage your core while cycling by squeezing in your lower ab muscles. This also helps you maintain proper posture while riding.

Not only is cycling a fun way to get fit, it’s one of the cheapest, most time-efficient and “greenest” forms of transportation available. An estimated one billion people around the world ride bicycles every day. Why not be one of them?

3 ‘musts’ for cycling with Parkinson’s

  • 1. Always have water on hand.
  • 2. Always stretch before and after each ride.
  • 3. Always wear a helmet when biking outside.
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