Forced exercise: cycling in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease

by Eric Shalit on January 11, 2015

“I don’t have Parkinson’s when I’m on my bike,” says Larry Smith. Apparently even advanced Parkinson’s patients can cycle. The bike gives Larry independence and makes him feel good.

With all the antagonism and negativity about whether or not cyclists have a right to share the road, or deserve infrastructure safety improvements, it pleases me to be able to share stories like this.

On New Year’s Day I rode my bike 35 miles to a friend’s party in Bellevue, WA. It was there I had the good fortune to meet a guy who told me about a program he was volunteering for in which Parkinson’s patients were paired with cyclists on stationary tandem bikes for a study on the benefits of forced exercise. ‘Forced exercise’ doesn’t mean the person doesn’t want to exercise. It’s that their body is unable to move at a particular pace without being ‘forced’ by their tandem partner. The film clip below will show you what that’s about.

Cycling and Parkinson’s Disease: What’s the link?

In the past few years, several studies have begun to show a beneficial relationship between cycling and Parkinson’s — in both disease diagnosis and in potential neuroprotective benefit. An important research trial funded by the Davis Phinney Foundation has brought together two of the leading researchers in this field, Dr. Jay Alberts of Cleveland Clinic and Dr. Bastiaan Bloem of Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands to continue to explore this link.

Ride With Larry: a short documentary film

This documentary focuses on Larry Smith, a retired police captain, beloved small-town baker, and avid cyclist who has had Parkinson’s for the last 20 years.

Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation needs you to be part of their STP Team.

I contacted Alecha Newbern, Program Director for Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation for information so I could bring you this story. I knew, after hearing about this many people in the cycling community would want to get involved. The forced exercise tandem cycling program is still too new and small scale to accept a major influx of new volunteers, though that time may yet come.

However, Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation has an STP team and is in serious need of cyclists to join their team. The number of STP team participants has been declining for several years. I suggested this story had the potential to boost participation since many readers may already be riding the STP. Alecha told me they go all out to support team members and that some of the team riders have Parkinson’s.

Upon fundraising a minimum of $500 each Team Parkinson’s rider will receive the care and pampering usually reserved for elite cycling teams. Joining the team doesn’t mean you have to ride with the team as a group. You can still ride at your own pace.

Benefits include:
  • An official Team Parkinson’s 2011 jersey
  • Catered gourmet meals at designated lunch stops
  • Free bike repair in Spanaway and Lexington
  • Complimentary massage at designated lunch stops
  • Discounted bike tune-up prior to the ride
  • Training and support to help you reach your fundraising goal
  • The chance to win a new custom-fit cycle – valued at $2,500 AND
  • reimbursement of your Cascade Bicycle Club STP registration fee (unless you decide to donate it)
  • { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    rye February 3, 2011 at 10:41 am

    My wife has suffered from Parkinson’s for the past 22 years She’s continued to ride her bicycle, and our tandem during that entire time.
    Last year, she had a hip replacement. She continues to ride.
    I continue to be amazed when I suggest a long ride. She never turns me down.
    Bicycling has been part of our (Mutual) life for years. She’s well known in the Tucson bicycling community. She’s attended Davis Phinney’s seminar at El Tour d’ Tucson. She receives no recognition for all this. She doesn’t need it. She just enjoys the sport of bicycling. That’s all she needs.
    She should be an example for other Parkies..The disease is there. It’s not going to go away. We know that. We joke about it, but (to her) bicycling has nothing to do with Parkinson’s..It has to do with life.
    Bob Epstein
    Tucson Az.


    Christine Tinberg February 5, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    We’ve got a website that helps blind stokers find tandem captains throughout the USA. It’s free. Maybe those with Parkinson’s could use it, too. Check us out. Share the ride!


    Elias Ross February 7, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    I got a pretty sweet tandem (Viewpoint) which I wouldn’t mind captaining. I’m really not into fund raising, though.


    Jack Tomkinson February 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Great concise informative post.
    The videos were also well chosen.
    Thank you and ride on!


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