For five years Alberts has been researching the effects of strenuous cycling on patients. With $1.5 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs, he has finished a 60-person study and has just launched another for 100 patients.
Although no final answers are in, Alberts’ work has sparked interest in the Parkinson’s world. Indoor cycling programs have sprung up at YMCAs in Seattle, Cleveland and Sarasota, Fla., with another in the planning stages in Los Angeles. A nonprofit called Pedaling for Parkinson’s is affiliated with the YMCA.
For Alberts’ just-completed study, patients rode indoor bikes. First he tested them to determine the pace at which they were comfortable, which was about 60 pedal revolutions per minute. Then they were required to pedal 35 percent faster.
After three-times-a-week sessions, nearly all patients showed improvement in mobility and small motor skills, and not one dropped out of the rigorous program. And although cycling involves the legs, mobility improved elsewhere as well — “in manipulation — the ability to open a jar, for instance. Something global was happening in the brain,” Alberts says.