Did your doctor prescribe exercise?

Exercise needs to move from a recommendation to a prescription for people with Parkinson’s.”

Dr. Jay Alberts, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Cleveland Clinic

Today, Jay Alberts, PhD, was my guest on Sunday Mornings with Twitchy Women. If you are not yet familiar with his work, you should be if you are a Person with Parkinson’s.

Jay Alberts

At the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Vice Chair of Innovations within the Neurological Institute, Dr. Alberts holds the “Edward F. and Barbara A. Bell Family Endowed Chair,” and is a staff member within the Department of Biomedical Engineering. His research is focused on understanding the effects of neurological disease or injury on motor and cognitive function and developing disease-specific interventions to improve motor and cognitive performance. 

In 2003, on a group ride across Iowa for the annual RAGBRAI bicycle race from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, Alberts noticed that the woman who was riding with him on a tandem bide, start showing improvement in some of her PD symptoms. That one little detail led to research on the effects of forced-exercise’s impacts on motor functioning.

The research

Since 2012, Alberts has been conducting clinical trials to compare the effects of forced exercise cycling on motor and non-motor performance compared to voluntary rate cycling and a non-exercise control group. In one trial, the results showed that an eight-week, high-intensity aerobic exercise program markedly enhances overall motor function, certain aspects of walking, and cognitive function in people with Parkinson’s.

Dr. Alberts and his colleague Dr. Anson Rosenfeldt looked at the effectiveness of Pedaling For Parkinson’s—an existing, low-cost community cycling class—and how participation in the class may slow Parkinson’s progression. Moving from the lab to “real life” is a big step toward increasing access to classes so even more people can live well with Parkinson’s.

With additional grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Alberts and his colleagues have studied the impact of exercise on Parkinson’s building on data recorded in previous studies. The most recent grant from the NIH indicates that cycling may be an ideal mode of exercise for people with Parkinson’s because regardless of disease severity, individuals can achieve and maintain a moderate to high intensity of exercise. *

In light of this, Alberts recommends daily exercise, with at least 3 days a week of 30 minutes intense exercise. If you are riding a stationary bicycle, he recommends getting your cadence up to 75-80 and gradually increase the resistance to get your heart rate up to 60-80% of your target heart rate.

Currently, Alberts is doing research on PwP’s using a Peloton Bike. If you are interested in participating, contact Liz at the Cleveland Clinic. Previous experience with a Peloton bike is not necessary.

Current study using Peloton Bikes
Peleton Study

With all of this evidence, you would think that exercise would be recommended from the day a person receives their diagnosis. It should be a no brainer, right? Unfortunately, many doctors do not even discuss exercise with their patients. Many of them may not even be aware of this research.

We need your help

What can you do to make sure that newly diagnosed PwP’s, and us veteran PwP’s too, know that exercise is essential?

  • Talk to your doctor, physical therapist and other care providers about Exercise as Medicine.
  • If you go to a Movement Disorders Clinic, speak to the head of the clinic about the importance of Exercise as Medicine and ask them to share it with everyone in the clinic. Better yet, ask if you can talk to the group about how exercise helps you every day to live better with PD.
  • Read Jay Albert’s articles on the Davis Phinney Foundation website.
  • Check out other Parkinson’s organizations for their recommendations and literature on exercise for PD.**
  • Take copies of these articles and brochures from the organizations about exercise for PD to your doctor, clinic, etc. and ask them to read them and distribute them to their patients. Especially the newly diagnosed.
  • Find out what your medical insurance covers for exercise. If they do not provide any coverage, send them the same information.
  • Finally, offer to talk to newly diagnosed patients about how exercise has helped you live better with Parkinson’s.

No one knows better than those of us living with PD about the benefits of exercise on our quality of life. So please spread the word.

Do you ride a Peloton? Join our FaceBook group Parkies with Pelotons

*A Timeline of Jay Alberts Parkinson’s Research, Davis Phinney Foundation

**Check out these websites for more information on Exercise and PD.

Parkinson’s Foundation

Michael J Fox Foundation

Davis Phinney Foundation

Brian Grant Foundation


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A Note To My Readers

I love to see your comments and get your emails as we share our collective experiences. But based on a couple of private questions from some of you, remember, I am just a lay person and a patient like the rest of you. For medical and similar advice, you need to talk to your own doctor

Twitchy Woman

Twitchy Women partners with the Parkinson’s Wellness Fund to ensure we have the resources to offer peer support for women with Parkinson’s.