Peddling to manage Parkinson’s

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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) – Parkinson's disease slowly decreases patient's control over movements and emotions, inducing symptoms like tremors and poor posture. But a national YMCA program, Pedaling for Parkinson’s, aims to reduce those symptoms.

“We knew that there was a need in the community and this was a program that we thought we could definitely have, that we had the ability to do this,” said Christina Bennett, healthy living director for the YMCA of Marquette County.

A Cleveland Clinic study suggests regular exercise can reduce Parkinson’s symptoms by up to 35 percent. In it, researchers specifically looked at a regimen of cycling three times a week, 45 minutes a session, with an 80 to 90 RPM heart rate.

The Marquette Pedaling for Parkinson’s program, founded in 2015, follows that regimen.

“This has made all the difference in my life,” Parkinson’s patient Sally Hupy Closser said. “It has given me more strength. It has given me more confidence. It has given me more relationship with other people that are in the same situation. They work us like we're training for an athletic event, like the Olympics.”

“Balance is better, posture is much better, and I walk with more certainty that I am not going to fall over,” 90-year-old Parkinson’s patient Don Hall said.

Up to seven Parkinson’s patients attend each session. Experts said regular cycling increases both muscle tone and blood flow to the brain.

The Pedaling for Parkinson’s program does seem to help decrease the progression of the disease,” said Alisha Wasilewski, physician assistant in neurology at UP Health System – Marquette. “It does help to improve their movement and can actually increase some dopamine levels.”

Of course, each Parkinson's patient is unique, and cycling doesn't work for everyone. That's where medicine and personalized physical therapy comes in.

“The difference between just a general exercise regimen and physical therapy is that we address the individual characteristics of that person and how they impact their daily function,” said Daniel Watkins, physical therapist at U.P. Rehab Services.

But for those whose Parkinson’s symptoms do benefit from exercise, cycling isn’t the only option. Doctors say any aerobic activity that raises heartrate is also effective.

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