Parkinson's disease is characterized by stiffness in limbs and trunk, tremors and shaking in hands, arms, legs, jaw or head, and impaired balance, which would seemingly make it difficult for those affected by the disease to exercise. However, a new study shows that cycling can actually reduce or slow the progress of the degenerative disease, according to the Herald-Tribune of Sarasota, Florida.
In the ongoing observational study, 17 individuals with Parkinson's between the ages of 60 and 78 pedal on stationary bikes toward personal, pre-set goals for their sustained, high-energy exercise, the news outlet reports. The study is being conducted by the Neuro Challenge Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Sarasota. The "Pedaling for Parkinson's" class has been beneficial over the course of the 12 weeks the seniors have been involved, the news outlet reports.
"Some of the benefits we have already seen are improved speech, improved gait and balance," Jennifer Williams, a care advisor for Neuro Challenge who has been tracking the volunteers throughout the study, told the news outlet. "A lot of folks are coming in without their walkers and their canes. Now they are getting on and off the bikes by themselves, which is huge. And the camaraderie of the class has helped with a lot of the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's, the depression and anxiety."
It's not the first time exercise has been found to reduce Parkinson's symptoms. The Parkinson's Disease Foundation reports that regular exercise or physical therapy can help individuals with Parkinson's maintain mobility, flexibility, balance and range of motion. As with all exercise, cycling increases energy levels for the seniors, boosting their moods while improving physical fitness.
Dean Sutherland, the medical director for Neuro Challenge, told the publication that while the researchers do not yet know the reason for the improvements, he and his colleagues are heartened by the results.
"It's fantastic," he told the publication. "It's such a positive thing and it's not even that complicated - ultimately, not even that expensive. It shows them they have more capability than they realize, and that gives them self-confidence and hope."