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Biking and Parkinson's

Biking has been a very common form of exercise in people with and without Parkinson's. Many YMCA's have programs, many local spin/cycle studios have programs, and many people love to road bike through the beautiful Capital District. I am sure you have heard that it is really great for people with PD, but do we know how it came popular and what it might help with? Let's find out.

How it started

The idea of cycling being beneficial for people with PD started back in 2003, when Dr. Albers and Cathy Frazier went on a tandem bike ride. Dr. Alberts is a neuroscientist and researcher at the Cleveland Clinic. When they got off the bike, they realized that Cathy's symptoms dramatically reduced - she was walking better and showed larger and clearer hand writing. The key was that Dr. Alberts was setting the pace and forcing Cathy to ride faster than she typically does. Dr. Alberts then went on to start Pedaling for Parkinson's and conducted more research around cycling. Pedaling for Parkinson's is a program that uses forced exercise on a bike. It involves 1 hour rides that include a warm up and cool down.


Cycling in Parkinson's has been heavily researched. We found that cycling can really improve someone's motor symptoms, specifically:

  1. Reduced tremor

  2. Improved coordination with walking

  3. Reduced bradykinesia

  4. Reduced rigidity

  5. Improved dexterity

There has also been benefits observed with non motor symptoms including:

  1. Improved mood

  2. Increased joy and social connections

  3. Improved cognitive function

Non motor symptoms like visual changes, nausea, incontinence, sexual dysfunction, hallucinations, delusions, etc. may not see a benefit from cycling. Obviously, one of the biggest benefits is improving our aerobic capacity, which will in turn help those that suffer from fatigue.

It is important to share that the speed and intensity matters. Research that has been conducted shows pedaling at a faster rate than you might normally go is where the magic lives. 80 - 90 revolutions per minute (rpm) or 75 - 85 rpm are commonly supported in the literature, although as long as you are pushing yourself more than what you typically would do, you should see benefits. We all start from different fitness levels, so 90rpm may not be appropriate for you at this time.

Important considerations

  1. Always take your medication into account. For those that have OFF times, make sure you are planning your high intensity exercise when you feel like you are functioning the best, or on your ON time.

  2. Always stay hydrated. Dehydration as people get older is very common and mix that with possible dehydration from Parkinson's and we have a recipe for disaster. Dehydration can lead to changes in balance, lower blood pressure, weakness, confusion, and more. Make sure you drink plenty of water before and after you exercise. We should all be aiming for half our body weight in ounces.

  3. Results from studies typically show that effects of cycling are based on longer-term exercise, not necessarily from one single session. Sure, we might see changes immediately after we exercise, but the longer lasting benefits come from consistent practice.

  4. Balance should be a big consideration, but it should not prevent you from cycling. There are many options like a recumbent stationary bike, a road bike on a home trainer, or an electric tricycle. For those that like to bike outdoors but are concerned about balance and/or endurance, electric tricycles keep you seated with your back supported and have the motor to take over if you get too tired.

  5. As always, talk with your doctor before you start a new form of exercise. You can also talk with your physical therapist to make sure that it is appropriate for you.

Where to cycle in the Capital District

Pedaling for Parkinson's

Guilderland YMCA

Wednesday’s 10:30 – 11:30

Friday’s 10:30 – 11:30 AM

Greenbush YMCA

Tuesday’s 3:00pm – 4:00pm

Southern Saratoga Branch

Monday’s 11:00am – 12:00pm

Thursday’s 11:00am – 12:00pm

Just because you have Parkinson's does not mean you HAVE to do pedaling for Parkinson's. Try out other cycle studios and find what is right for you! The Revolution Spin is a popular cycle studio that participates in Parkinson's fundraising. The YMCA and other local gyms have their own cycling classes that are not specific for PD but may be beneficial!

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