A new study finds that Parkinson’s patients who completed a 6-month cycling program showed significantly better cardiovascular fitness and reduced motor disability, compared to a control group of patients who only did stretches.
The findings from the Park-in-Shape study, funded by ZonMW (Netherlands Organization for Health Research & Development), were published in The Lancet Neurology.
Participants in the active intervention group were instructed to exercise for 30-45 minutes on a stationary bicycle at home, at least three times a week, while the control group performed stretching exercises. Both groups had a motivational app at their disposal, which offered the participants rewards for exercising.
The active group’s exercise bikes were also equipped with motivating games, making the program more entertaining and challenging for the participants. For example, the participants could race against their own previous performance — a “ghost rider” — or against a group of other cyclists.
The system adjusted the difficulty of the game to the patient’s heartbeat, making the challenge just right. The challenges also became more difficult as the participants got fitter.
Thanks to these motivating elements, the active participants faithfully complied with the cycling exercise regime three times a week for 6 months. After the study, the cycling patients had significantly better cardiovascular fitness, which has many obvious advantages.
The motor disability of the cycling group was also significantly better: according to the gold standard (the MDS-UPDRS score), the cycling group scored on average 4.2 points lower than the control group. This is a rather large effect, comparable to that of several conventional Parkinson’s drugs, according to the researchers.
“We were pleasantly surprised that people with Parkinson’s disease were able to adhere to their exercise regimes so well. The beneficial effect on their motor disability was also large enough to be clinically relevant. As such, exercise is a very useful addition to the medication,” said Ph.D. candidate and researcher Nicolien van der Kolk.
The fact that this cycling exercise can take place entirely at home is a major advantage for patients, as this greatly enhances the feasibility of the treatment.
“This study is very important. We can now start researching whether much more long-term cycling can also slow the disease progression,” said Principal Investigator Professor Bas Bloem.
“Also, this new ‘exergaming’ approach that we have developed is very suitable to achieve long-term improvements in exercise behavior for patients with a range of other disorders that could also benefit from regular exercise.”