April is Parkinson's Awareness Month

Last updated: April 10, 2023, at 7:53 a.m. PT

Originally published: March 29, 2023, at 4:06 p.m. PT

Two seniors pedaling on stationary bikes

First off, what is Parkinson’s? It's a disease that affects nearly one million people in the United States and occurs when brain cells that make dopamine start producing less of it. This causes a range of symptoms. Exactly what symptoms, how severe they are, and how much or how fast they progress is different for everyone. The four main symptoms are tremors, muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, and impaired balance and coordination. So, it’s a movement disorder, but it can also cause depression and other emotional changes. 

Symptoms will emerge gradually and, since on average it starts in people age 60 years and older, can often be mistaken for the natural effects of aging such as mild tremors or difficulty getting out of a chair. But again, it affects everyone differently. Some will notice their handwriting getting smaller or their voice becoming softer, and others may notice that their face has become less expressive.  

It’s important to remember that Parkinson’s is not fatal and there are treatments and medications to limit health complications and reduce the impact on quality of life. One of the best ways to maintain quality of life is movement. This might sound surprising, but even those that have been left hardly able to walk by the disease are often able to ride a bicycle!  

Exercise – especially cycling – has been shown to be hugely beneficial, reducing symptoms by up to 35%, and doing so “above the subjects’ voluntary exercise rates is best. What does that mean? Well, it means sometimes we need an extra push. Group stationary bike classes are a great way to do this while building community.  

That’s where Pedaling for Parkinson's and YMCA360 come in! Pedaling for Parkinson's is a national program that the Y participates in which involves getting riders up to 90 RPM and keeping them there for 40 minutes. YMCA360 is the Y's collection of high quality on-demand and livestream classes by real people, for real people. They offer a collection of Parkinson's Support videos with a variety of workouts designed especially for those with Parkinson's.