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Tandem cycling program targets Parkinson’s sufferers

Trainer Kathleen Cardoza serves as the lead cyclist on a tandem bike with Madeleine Kenefick, who has Parkinson’s disease, as they pedal for exercise Tuesday afternoon at the Davis Athletic Club. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | December 28, 2011 |

Have you ever been unable to participate in a research study because it’s halfway across the country, calls for only six subjects or is already over?

In the do-it-yourself spirit of “Hey, let’s put on a show!” one Davis woman pitched the idea of simulating one such study at the Davis Athletic Club, and the rest could be history.

Over the past few years, exercise scientists at the Cleveland Clinic’s department of biomedical engineering have had remarkable, quantifiable success with several innovative studies: People with Parkinson’s disease were paired with strong lead cyclists on stationary tandem bicycles.

By the end of the eight-week program, subjects experienced up to 35 percent increased mobility, reduced tremor and minimized rigidity, according to Davis resident Madeleine Kenefick, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about 12 years ago.

A video on the program may be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJoTYLrm1Ak.

The team pedals for one hour: a 10-minute warm-up, 40 minutes of hard pedaling and a 10-minute cool-down, plus short breaks when necessary.

The goal is to pace the 40-minute, hard-working section at 30 to 35 percent above the subject’s unassisted maximum rate, Kenefick says. In other words, if a person with Parkinson’s disease is able to ride a stationary bike at a rate of 60 revolutions per minute, the goal for that team would be about 80 rpm. This is known as forced exercise, she explains.

Overall, the Parkinson’s sufferers who completed an eight-week study improved their unified Parkinson’s disease rating scale up to 35 percent, and most maintained those improvements for an additional four weeks, Kenefick says.

She and Jan Robinson, the Davis Athletic Club’s finance manager, have set up a forced exercise program for local people with Parkinson’s disease at the club, 1809 Picasso Ave. A stationary tandem bicycle has been installed, with volunteers from DAC’s regularly scheduled spinning classes to serve as lead cyclists.

An informational meeting is planned at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 4, at DAC, offering an opportunity to have questions answered and to offer suggestions, Kenefick says.

“This also will be a good time to meet other participants and lead cyclists,” she adds.

The tandem program, which is not restricted to people with Parkinson’s, will begin in mid-January and is open to DAC members as well as nonmembers free of charge.

“What started as a purely self-serving idea stands to benefit many more; it’s not funded in the sense of a grant, but generosity; and it’s not restricted to only people with Parkinson’s — the first response to a support group emailing was from someone with another neurological disorder,” Kenefick says.

The eight-week program will be followed by a break of two to four weeks, after which participants may sign up for another eight-week session; the program as a whole may be seen as ongoing, Kenefick explains.

Participants may reserve the tandem during scheduled daily spinning classes — morning, noon and night. (Those providing their own lead cyclists may reserve the tandem any time during club hours.)

After choosing a convenient spinning class time from the schedule, participants need only to reserve the tandem by calling DAC at (530) 753-5282 on the same day. (Your lead cyclist will be notified when you arrive.)

Lead cyclists must be at least 5-foot-6 to pedal safely since the limited adjustment of the front seat must accommodate the rear handlebars, Kenefick says.

Those potential participants who are not yet up to speed are encouraged to use the program to gain the strength needed to achieve the described benefits.

Since this is not a formal research study with statistical analyses, any improvements noted will be subjective and likely to correspond to how closely the schedule is followed, she adds.

Those interested in participating in the initial eight-week program may sign up at the club’s front desk or at the informational meeting. Participants are welcome to try out the tandem bike at that time. Lead cyclists will be available in January when the program’s first session begins.

“It is the participants’ responsibility to discuss this program with their doctors to ensure that it will not adversely affect any health issues they may have,” Kenefick says.

For more information, contact Kenefick at madeleine.kenefick@gmail.com.

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