Forced Exercise Improves Mobility, Mood in PD Patient, Study Finds

José Lopes, PhD avatar

by José Lopes, PhD |

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A collaboration between Theracycle and Virginian Outpatient Therapy will replicate a forced exercise regimen on a motorized bicycle with evidence of easing Parkinson’s symptoms, including rigidity, loss of balance and tremor.

In a 2009 study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, an eight-week program of forced exercise with a trainer on a stationary tandem bicycle — in which patients’ bodies move beyond the extent they can do so themselves — was compared to voluntary exercise on a stationary single bicycle. Ten patients (eight men) with mild to moderate idiopathic Parkinson’s were included, five patients in each group.

The results showed that the patients on forced exercise (mean age 58 years, disease duration 7.9 years) had a 35% improvement in motor scores — as assessed with the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS; higher scores mean more impairment) — as well as improved control and coordination of grasping during a bimanual dexterity task. Such improvements were not observed with voluntary exercise, although both groups had greater aerobic capacity.

The benefits in rigidity, bradykinesia — slowness of movement — and hand dexterity were maintained four weeks after stopping forced exercise, in which the patients pedaled at a rate 30% greater than their preferred voluntary rate.

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In 2018, Shirlea Hennessy, Virginian Outpatient Therapy’s assistant director of rehabilitation, replicated the Cleveland Clinic study in a Parkinson’s patient. The patient’s wellness program was supplemented with an hour of forced exercise on the Theracycle three times a week for eight weeks.

This approach led to an improvement in the UPDRS score from 36 to 6 in 12 weeks, loss of 10 pounds, more joy in daily activities — including tai chi, yoga, Bible study, and visits with his grandchildren — and regaining the confidence to drive.

“To see such substantial improvements in his mobility symptoms in as little as eight weeks was remarkable,” Hennessy, who is also a board-certified geriatric clinical specialist, said in a press release.

Similar to the 2009 study, the patient maintained his improvements for four weeks after stopping the program, “revealing that a little effort can go a long way in establishing greater freedom and independence,” Hennessy said. “That freedom and independence is all that [Parkinson’s] patients strive for as they face their diagnosis and symptoms.”

Peter Blumenthal, Theracycle’s CEO, said that “to see Virginian Outpatient Therapy replicate the Cleveland Clinic study with its own patient and produce equally impressive results is inspiring.”

Hennessy will keep implementing forced exercise with a Theracycle for Parkinson’s patients at the outpatient physical therapy provider and expects to see benefits across the board.

A recent survey conducted by Theracycle revealed that 80% of its customers had improved walking, balance, and gait. Also, 73% reported an improvement in overall mood and 64% had a reduction in tremors or involuntary movements. Full results of the survey can be found here.

“At Theracycle, we understand how life-changing forced exercise can be for [Parkinson’s] patients,” Blumenthal said. “We’re honored to make a positive impact on the lives of those living with [Parkinson’s].”

Besides Parkinson’s, Theracycle provides motorized exercise bicycles to ease symptoms of multiple sclerosis, paraplegia, stroke, Down syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and other degenerative neurological disorders.