Stepping Out of the Research Lab and Spinning into Real Life

Pedaling for Parkinson's - Davis Phinney Foundation

Written by Sara Garvey, Ph.D., Research Program Manager 

Throughout my career in research, I’ve often been struck by the dedication of talented scientists who work tirelessly on their projects. It’s one of the reasons I pursued a career in the field myself — the passion is contagious! 

Just this month, I had the rare opportunity to see this dedication in action when Drs. Anson Rosenfeldt and Jay Alberts from the Cleveland Clinic were in Colorado collecting data for their Davis Phinney Foundation-funded research project.  

In 2018, this team was awarded a grant to study the effectiveness of Pedaling for Parkinson’s—an existing low-cost community cycling class—and how Parkinson’s progression may slow down for participants in the class. 

Instead of sending their research assistants, which is typically the case for studies like these, Rosenfeldt and Alberts came to Colorado themselves to collect data from participants. 

Pedaling for Parkinson's Data Collection

As I watched them in action, I was struck by their embodiment of our values as a foundation. Our values:  

  • Live well – This research team does NOT wear white lab coats. As active cyclists themselves, they were approachable and fun to be around! Their energy for the day and passion for the project was as evident as was the Davis Phinney Foundation logo on one of their jerseysThis whole line of research into the benefits of cycling began in 2003 when Dr. Jay Alberts rode a tandem bike across Iowa (RAGBRAI) with a person with Parkinson’s and noticed that her handwriting improved dramaticallyThis discovery launched numerous studies on the benefits of exercise for Parkinson’s and reversed the idea that rest was best. A simple bike ride, an embodiment of living well, started it all.  
  • Inspire Action – As opposed to most Parkinson’s research, this study is examining the effect of a program in “real life”. This includes real-life challenges and obstacles, but it’s also full of the potential to truly help people live well today.  After a number of lab-based studies showed that high-intensity cycling can reduce motor symptoms and potentially slow disease progression, this team decided it was time to test this out within a community setting. If this project does indeed show that Pedaling for Parkinson’s can slow the progression of Parkinson’s, these community cycling classes (which are already in over 100 locations) could be rolled out to even more communities with relative ease across the country and world. Talk about inspiring action! 
  • Connect the Community – A trip to Colorado wasn’t originally planned for this study; however, after hearing about how engaged this Boulder Pedaling for Parkinson’s class is, they decided to reach out to the community and add the site to the study.   

Here’s what one of the participants said about the study:  

As a person with Parkinson’s, and a person with a passion for cycling, I’m excited to be part of this research project headed by Dr. Jay Alberts and his fantastic staff from the Cleveland Clinic. While the study is just getting started here in Boulder, the support and commitment of the team is obvious and will lead to long term involvement by our Boulder Parkinson’s community – both in the cycling gym and in the research lab.”
– Rich Wildau, Davis Phinney Foundation Ambassador and avid cyclist living with Parkinson’s

To me, all of this makes the Davis Phinney Foundations funded research seem different than the rest. While advancing our understanding of Parkinson’s, our funded projects also match our values and truly promote living well today!  

We’d Love to Know, What Role Does Cycling Play in Your Life?

If you have a moment, please let us know how or if cycling helps you live well with Parkinson’s by taking this very brief survey.

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Comments (7)

Hi I’m a certified spinning instructor lead instructor of Rock Steady Boxing at White Oaks Resort in Niagara. With Our RSB Program in its third year and the knowledge that cycling can also help Parkinson’s people we have added an optional spinning class. Those that attend regularly love it.

Martin Hovenkotter

Here in Seattle we also have an active ( 17 regulars) Rock Steady Boxing class in Redmond and we have added a Spinning, (Pedaling for Parkinsons ) at the Sammamish YMCA which has grown (to 10 regulars) with data recorded ( daily at the Spin class and a skill baseline recorded at the Boxing)

That’s great, Martin. Love that you’re getting to experience the Pedaling for Parkinson’s program. And that you have such great attendance at your Rock Steady Boxing classes. We know how important the consistency of these communities are, and how much they have contributed to helping people live well with Parkinson’s.

My husband made so much progress in his Pedaling for Parkinson’s group at the YMCA in Mill Creek, WA, from 2015-17 that it has been the most significant thing he misses since moved out of state. He still cycles outdoors and at home on a stationary bike; but I know he misses the camaraderie and support he received in addition to the physical activity at the PDP sessions. We’d like to get a group started here in Tucson, and I’m hopeful that this continued research might help us present data for a small development grant to get it going. It’s such a valuable complement to all of the other community initiatives — such as RSB & the Power Gym — that make up a balanced, empowering, integrated approach to therapeutic practices outside the realm of medication alone.

Hi Sheila! – I hope a group comes to your area soon. I know how much those groups mean to living well. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help. And, we hope to see you in Tucson this December!

I began going to the Pedaling For Parkinson’s programs available to me in the Seattle area almost five years ago, and it changed my entire outlook on life with PD. Now I live in Tucson AZ and ride the fabulous Loop Trail system every day. Exercise and wellness is my full time job. Thanks to Dr. Alberts and other advocates of cycling for the difference they’ve made in so many lives!

I’m so glad you’ve found something you love and that also helps you live better with Parkinson’s. Thanks for reading!

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