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How pedal power could ease Parkinson's: Cycling can improve connections in brain regions linked to the disease

Tuesday November 27, 2012

Scans revealed pedalling boosted connections between brain regions linked to movement
Fiona Macrae

www.dailymail.co.uk - Cycling could help ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, scientists believe.

The exercise improved connections between brain regions linked to the disease and boosted patients’ co-ordination and balance, research has shown.

Exercising on a bike is ‘an effective, low-cost therapy for the disease’, one researcher said.

Some 120,000 Britons have Parkinson’s. Symptoms include tremors, speech problems and a gradual slowing down of the body.

As the disease progresses, speech and balance can be affected and some sufferers become wheelchair-bound.

High-profile patients include Michael J Fox, who was just 30 when he was diagnosed with the condition, and Muhammad Ali.

US neuroscientist Jay Alberts began the research after noticing improvements in his companion, a Parkinson’s patient, after a long-distance tandem ride across Iowa.

Dr Alberts, of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, Ohio, said: ‘The finding was serendipitous. I was pedalling faster, which forced her to pedal faster.

'She had improvements in her upper extremity function, so we started to look at the possible mechanism behind this improved function.’

In the study, he carried out a series of scans on the brains of 26 Parkinson’s patients who used exercise bikes three times a week for two months.

Some pedalled at their own pace, while others undertook ‘forced-rate’ cycling, in which they were made to pedal faster by motors fitted to their bikes.

The scans revealed pedalling, particularly vigorous pedalling, boosted connections between brain regions linked to movement, the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago heard.

Researcher Chintan Shah, also from the Cleveland Clinic, said: ‘The results show that forced-rate bicycle exercise is an effective, low-cost therapy for Parkinson’s disease.’

The scientists are now studying how patients fare with exercise bikes in their homes. They also want to see whether other forms of exercise such as swimming and rowing have similar benefits.

The charity Parkinson’s UK welcomed the research, saying the balance and co-ordination can be badly damaged as the disease progresses.

However, it also cautioned that not all patients will be capable of exercising intensely.

Dr Kieran Breen, the charity’s director of research, said: ‘While it is too soon to encourage people with Parkinson’s to get on their bikes three times a week on the basis of this study, we do know that exercise can be beneficial.

‘A regular exercise routine can help those with the condition to not only improve their general fitness but can also help to improve movement and balance as well as other symptoms of the condition such as anxiety and depression.’