April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. It is an annual worldwide campaign that began in 1997 to commemorate the birthday (April 11) of Dr. James Parkinson. He was the first to describe the disease 200 years ago. Nearly a million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s disease (PD). It is the second most prevalent neurodegenerative illness in the country, after Alzheimer’s.
The Importance of Exercise
There is no cure for PD, but there are treatments that can help you live with it. One of the hallmarks of PD is the reduction of dopamine in the brain, so medications used to treat the disease are those that can replace dopamine. There are also surgical options for controlling tremors. But these days surgery is usually reserved for patients who no longer respond to medication. Exercise, under the supervision of a physical therapist, can improve quality of life by increasing mobility, flexibility, strength, and gait speed. And it appears the best exercise may be cycling.
A neuroscientist named Jay Alberts discovered the benefits of pedaling for PD in 2003 on an organized bike tour across Iowa. Alberts rode a tandem bicycle with Cathy Frazier, a woman living with Parkinson’s. He noticed her tremors and handwriting improved during the ride. She herself reported that during the ride she didn’t even feel like she had Parkinson’s. Alberts confirmed with the UPDRS-Part III Motor Exam that her motor symptoms had improved by 35%.
Alberts and Frazier went on to found Pedaling for Parkinson’s. The organization offers indoor stationary cycling classes. It also explores how physical activity impacts motor symptoms in Parkinson’s. Pedaling For Parkinson’s classes meet every week in locations across the country. The organization is now conducting classes online: see the PFP website for details.
The evidence suggests that pedaling at 80 rpm or more for an hour can have a dramatic effect on PD symptoms. So I believe there’s a workable strategy available to many people for managing their PD. That strategy is to find ways to relieve your pain sufficiently to make you feel like getting on an exercise bike. You may get that pain relief with medication, or you may get it with alternative methods, such as meditation, cryotherapy, sauna, or photobiomodulation (PBM).
Parkinson’s Disease Awareness and Research
As it happens, there is also research that suggests PBM may help to reduce the rate of dopamine loss caused by PD. Human studies, summarized by James R. Hamblin in 2016, showed PBM led to measurable improvements for PD patients in several neurological tests.
The research Hamblin summarized was performed with LED-lined helmets. So it does not prove that the full-body type of PBM offered here at Peak would have the same effect. But the light wavelengths we use are capable of noninvasive penetration to a depth of a few inches or more. My personal opinion is that whole-body PBM provides both regenerative cellular benefits to your entire body and at least some of whatever neural repair the LED-lined helmets offer.
Do what you can this month to increase PD awareness among your friends and neighbors. And, if you have PD and are seeking a way to manage it, consider PBM as a low-risk part of your plan. You can book a session here.