Preventing and Treating Health Complications: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Heart Disease, Diabetes, and Joint Health

Preventing and Treating Health Complications: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Heart Disease, Diabetes, and Joint Health

Riding your bike can produce powerful health benefits beyond losing weight and getting into shape—it can also slow, prevent, and help treat a broad range of health complications.

Slow the Onset of Alzheimer’s Disease

Multiple studies have found that frequent exercise, especially aerobic exercise, can slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and decrease symptoms for those who already have it. Cycling is one of the best ways to get this type of exercise since it is low impact—you’ll get all the cardio, aerobic, and muscular exercise you need without stressing or damaging your joints.

To slow or treat Alzheimer’s disease, it is generally recommended that you get around 150 minutes of light to moderate exercise per week. Here’s a workout plan to help you hit that benchmark:

HOW TO PEDAL
INTENSITY
HOW LONG
1. Warm-up
Zone 1, easing into Zone 2
 15 minutes
2. Gradually increase pace and intensity
Zone 2
20 minutes
3. Ease off to a lower pace and intensity
Zone 1-2
15 minutes

 

Complete this ride 3 times per week. And whenever possible, add in at least 2 days of upper body and core strength training (see Chapter 15 for suggestions).

See:

Managing Parkinson’s Disease

Researchers now believe that regular exercise from a workout like cycling can dramatically decrease symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease.

“We think the benefits come from the increased rate of information to the brain,” neuroscientist and researcher Dr. Jay Alberts told Bicycling. “As you make your movements faster, more regular and more efficient, you have an increase in the quality and quantity of information going to the brain, which potentially triggers the release of neurotrophic factors or proteins in the brain that are responsible for improvements in motor and cognitive function.”

Interestingly, researchers have found that riding a bike at a relatively fast pace tends to produce the best results for folks living with Parkinson’s.52 To facilitate these faster-than-av- erage speeds, try riding a tandem bike with a partner who can push the pace and “force” you keep up. Alternatively, use an electric bike to give yourself an extra boost as you pedal.

Regardless of the bike you use, here’s a simple cycling workout for riders with Parkinson’s disease, based on recommendations from Dr. Alberts:

HOW TO PEDAL
INTENSITY
HOW LONG
1. Warm-up
Zone 1, gradually increasing to Zone 2
 10 minutes
2. Maintain a brisk pace and intensity, slightly faster than you would normally pedal
Zone 2+ pushing yourself to hit Zone 3
40 minutes
3. Nice and easy cool down
Zone 1-2
10 minutes

 

Completing this ride 3 times a week for at least 8 straight weeks has shown to produce long-lasting improvements in cognitive and motor function.

Ride to Prevent Heart Disease

Frequent cycling, including high intensity intervals, can dramatically lower your risk of developing heart disease. As summarized by Harvard Medical School, people who regularly ride a bike have 15% fewer heart attacks than non-cyclists, and pedaling for as little as one hour a week is associated with lower rates of heart disease.

The key is consistently elevating your heart rate. This workout plan is designed to make that happen: 

HOW TO PEDAL
INTENSITY
HOW LONG
1. Warm-up
Zone 1, gradually increasing to Zone 2
5- 10 minutes
2. Pick up speed and intensity until you feel your heart rate rise and you begin sweating
Zone 2-3
20-40 minutes
3. Cool down
Zone 1-2
5-10 minutes


Begin by completing this ride three times per week, making sure that each ride is at least 30 minutes long. As you improve, scale up to five 60-minute rides per week.

Cycling to Manage Diabetes

Studies have found that habitual cycling can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 20 percent.55 And for those already dealing with diabetes, cycling has proven to be an effective way to improve health and better manage symptoms.

Interestingly, researchers have found very similar outcomes among those who regularly ride electric bikes—so much so, in fact, that researchers at the University of Bristol recommended e-bikes as an effective “health-improving intervention in people with Type 2 diabetes.”

Both short and long rides have proven to be incredibly beneficial for those with diabetes. The key is to monitor blood sugar levels and adjust to whatever type of ride you’re doing.

For example, if you’re doing a shorter ride in the ballpark of 20-30 minutes at moderate intensity, the most important thing is to drink a sugary drink halfway through your ride. However, if you’re doing a longer ride—one hour or more—then you need to test your blood beginning 20 minutes into the ride and then every 30 minutes after that.

With good planning and careful monitoring, cycling is not only accessible to folks living with diabetes, but is actually a powerful way to manage symptoms and maintain a healthier, more comfortable lifestyle.

Riding Your Bike Promotes Joint Health

Cycling is effective at preventing and managing joint pain because it gently stretches the hips and knees while also building the surrounding leg muscles for added strength and stability.

But to see these benefits, your bike must fit properly. If you’re bending your knees too much or too little, you may end up straining your joints. When your bike fits right and your seat height is adjusted properly, your knees should have a very slight bend at the bottom of your pedal stroke.

Frequent, shorter rides are better for joint health than fewer, longer rides. In fact, completing multiple short rides in a single day will produce better results than doing one long ride per week. With that in mind, here’s a simple ride you can use as the foundation of your joint health cycling workouts:

HOW TO PEDAL
INTENSITY
HOW LONG

1. Easy warm-up on flat ground

Very easy Zone 1; you should feel no tension or resistance during this interval
5-10 minutes
2. Slowly increase speed and intensity, adding in some gentle inclines as you’re able
Zone 2
10-30 minutes, depending on time and ability
3. Cool down
Zone 1
 

5-10 minutes


Your goal is to complete 20-30 minute versions of this ride 3-5 times per week.

Alternatively, you can do shorter versions of this ride, around 15 minutes or so, as often as 2-3 times per day. One final note: For riders with joint pain, electric bikes can often be an ideal solution. Simply let the motor do the hard work so you can focus on using the cycling motion to gently stretch and mobilize your joints.