As the sweat drips down my face, I anxiously look up at the clock and realize I still have 45 minutes left in my hour-long cycling class. The workout has been killer.
My goal for the past five months has been to build up my endurance and work on my breathing after I lost a vocal cord nerve to cancer, which has restricted my airway and my ability to run. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., encouraged me to try alternative cardio workouts to learn to control my breathing in hopes of running again.
Little did I know, while I was overwhelmed at times in the class, and I felt like I was among professional cyclists, I actually was with new friends with bigger struggles. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I had been pedaling at full-speed with inspirational people with Parkinson’s disease.
The group participates in the YMCA’s Delay the Disease program, which encourages them to cycle. Delay the Disease is national fitness program designed to empower people with Parkinson’s disease. Its purpose is to help them take control of the disease’s progression with daily exercise. It also helps participants with social skills, gain confidence in a crowd, improve handwriting, move with normality, get out of bed, rise from a chair and dress independently.
It currently is offered at the Bettendorf Family YMCA, and soon will be offered at the Two Rivers YMCA in Moline.
In 2012, a study released by the Radiological Society of North America revealed that faster pedaling on a stationary bike led to greater connectivity in brain areas associated with motor ability. The study was done after Jay L. Alberts, Ph.D., neuroscientist at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute in Cleveland, in 2003 rode a tandem bicycle across Iowa with a Parkinson's disease patient to raise awareness of the disease.
The patient experienced improvements in her symptoms after the ride.
“It gives me a regular workout that I would not normally do on my own,” said Barb Warren, a retired teacher who was diagnosed with the disease five years ago. “The class has given me social interaction, an important piece when you have Parkinson’s. It has given me friendships that I look forward to seeing, and has helped me with energy levels. I feel more optimistic about life.”
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive neurological disorder where the brain gradually becomes damaged. Symptoms of the disease include shaking, tremors, muscle stiffness and slowness. As the disease progresses, cognitive and behavioral problems occur.
“I have learned when I am exercising, I am not judging myself against other people,” Ms. Warren said. “Now, I think because of Parkinson's, my attitude has changed. I am going to do the best I can and not compare myself to others. I did that for years. That’s a big step for me.”
It is estimated that more than 10 million people worldwide are stricken by the disease.
“This has been one of the best experiences of my life,” said Terry Lenninger, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2008. “If there are people with any disease, it is beneficial to get exercise.
"The program makes it easy for anyone to come in and feel welcomed. You start to know people. You have the support from the others going through the same things you are. We hold ourselves accountable to get here. Overall, it is great to build strength, rebuild muscle structure and make new friends. Anything we can do to move forward helps.”
YMCA Delay the Disease trainer Marli Apt said that exercise "can help delay onset of symptoms and can retrain (a participant's) brain. They are working to function more normal. Exercise can help them get more movement.”
Ms. Apt said the key is to get people moving.
The days I find it difficult to get to cycling class, I remind myself how great it is to be alive, to move and to have friends that encourage me. The warm smiles of Terry, Barb and the rest of the Delay the Disease participants give me hope and remind me not to give up.
“I try and rearrange my schedule to be at the YMCA four days a week,” Mr. Lenninger said. “It helps me move better in my day. Like the other day, I worked outside in the heat for a few hours. You don’t have to redo the world; just take a breather when you need to and smell the roses, then go out and try it again. It’s what you do when you have Parkinson’s.”
For more information about the Delay the Disease program, visit delaythedisease.com.