HOW IT STARTED
In 2003, Jay Alberts, Ph.D. was doing research on Deep Brain Stimulation for PD patients. An avid cyclist who grew up in Iowa, Dr. Alberts convinced six cycling friends to join him for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). One friend was accompanied by his wife who has PD. The couple started on the week long tour on a tandem bike. It was an instant disaster. Dr. Alberts took his friend’s place on the front of the bike, pedaling at his typical 80-90 rpm cadence. After a few days, the woman said she no longer felt as though she had PD. Also, her handwriting, impaired by PD, was markedly improved.
His curiosity piqued, Dr. Alberts researched the effects of fast-paced cycling on 12 PD patents. Six rode on solo stationary bikes at their normal cadence of about 55 rpm, keeping their heart rates at 60-85 percent of maximum. Six rode on the backs of tandem cycles at a pace of 80-90 rpm within the same heart rate range. For eight weeks, each rode three hourly sessions per week with 10 minutes of warm up, 40 minutes at cadence and 10 minutes of cool down. At the end of eight weeks, the patients on solo bikes had no measurable change in PD. Those on tandems had an average of 35 percent reduction in symptoms. A month after stopping, the tandem patients still retained some benefits.
Dr. Alberts is conducting additional research to expand the size of the study groups and to explore certain aspects of the cycling protocols. He has published several scientific papers on his research. Based on this groundbreaking research, many people with PD are cycling either on solo bikes or on tandems, achieving relief from symptoms as long as they maintain the protocols, especially the target cadence.