Healthy Living

Is Forced Exercise Really A Treatment for Parkinson's?

A group of doctors had their patients go through intense exercise to reduce their symptoms. Here's what they found.

Is Forced Exercise Really A Treatment for Parkinson's?

Across the US, people are gathering together a few times a week to climb on their stationary bikes and peddle like nobody’s business. These aren’t spin classes, nor are the riders training for the Tour de France.  Instead, these are people who are challenging themselves and pushing their bodies by doing regular 45-minute cycles at 80 to 90 RPMS.

What those riders are actually doing is fighting for their freedom. They have discovered that exercise, specifically forced-exercise, is giving them a way to reduce their symptoms and lessen the effects of Parkinson’s disease. It’s giving them the freedom to do the things they love doing despite their disease.

Using the specially designed exercise equipment, such as the Theracycle, patients are able to push their bodies and help overcome their symptoms.  The Theracycles are modified bikes that have been designed to help those with disorders like Parkinson’s by working with the body and making it easy for anyone to use, regardless of their strength and endurance. Regular workout equipment uses resistance to help improve the user's performance. The Theracycle doesn’t have the barrier of resistance, making it accessible to anyone.

A group of doctors in Cleveland has discovered that the use of forced-exercise could possibly be the best way to overcome the debilitating tremors and muscle contractions that come with Parkinson’s disease.  Forced exercise is the term coined for when Parkinson's patients are ‘forced” to maintain a higher than usual achievable level of exercise.

In this particular case, doctors are using cycling as a way to get their patients to do force-exercise. The program is designed to really push the participants and make them work hard. In other words, to see positive results, the patients are forced way out of their comfort zone by cycling and really putting them through their paces.

Parkinson’s, an overview:

Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disorder. It targets the central nervous system causing serious issues with the patient’s motor system. It’s a long-term and slow-moving disease that causes a wide range of symptoms. The most common and well-known indicators  of PD are trembling, muscle rigidity and slowness of movements. 

As the disease progresses, patients typically have difficulty with walking and performing simple day-to-day tasks, such as brushing their teeth or buttoning their shirts. Depending on the severity of the PD, patients can also eventually lose their ability to speak and have to deal with mobility issues. 

Another side of PD is the effect that it has on the person’s cognitive abilities. Many patients develop dementia and behavioral changes. It can also lead to mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and even sleep.

The exact cause of PD is still unknown but, researchers and scientists are working hard to figure that out. There have been some connections found to both genetic and environmental factors, as well as higher risks for those who have suffered from serious head injuries and have been exposed to certain pesticides.  While PD has been around for years, only recently it has become much more known and talked about.  That’s because well-known celebrities like Michael J. Fox are sharing their struggles with the disease.  This has also lead to more research into the disorder which, in turn, led to the discovery of how much impact exercise can have.

That’s where the connection between Parkinson’s disease and forced-exercise was made.

Since there is currently no cure for the disease, researchers are constantly searching for ways to treat the symptoms. They want to find ways to make living with PD a little easier for the patient. Currently, treatment options include medication, working with occupational therapists and physical therapists and, the must more invasive deep brain stimulation. These all have their benefits and some may work better than others, but none make the symptoms disappear.

A team of doctors decided to look at exercise and see what it could do for their patients. What they discovered is that proteins in the brain are actually affected by intense exercise. That means, that the brain is actually influenced and changed with the right amount and intensity of exercise. Forced exercise is an actual way to treat the disease.

Peddling away the symptoms

Patients who have participated in the forced exercise research project or who have joined the many groups of ‘peddlers’ across the country have seen a huge improvement in their symptoms.  In fact, it’s sometimes impossible to tell if a participant has PD at all. Some have seen a decrease in their trembling, they no longer shuffle their feet when they walk and are able to once again participate in the activities they love, like playing golf for example.

They have also noticed a vast improvement in other areas as well:

  • Improved endurance
  • Less cognitive fog and better memory
  • More flexibility and better posture
  • Ease of gait and better balance
  • Better sleep, leading to improved concentration and attending
  • Better overall mental health

The benefits of regular exercise have never been a secret. Everyone knows that moving their body will help with a number of ailments and help to stay healthy. Many people don’t realize, however, that exercise is more than just for staying fit or losing weight.  It could actually make their lives better. Regular intense workouts can help overcome challenges, and for those with PD, it can help them live as normal a life as possible.