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A 12-Week Cycling Training Regimen Improves Gait and Executive Functions Concomitantly in People With Parkinson’s Disease

Alexandra Nadeau, Ovidiu Lungu, Catherine Duchesne, Marie-Ève Robillard Arnaud Bore Florian Bobeuf, Réjean Plamondon, Anne-Louise Lafontaine, Freja Gheysen, Louis Bherer and Julien Doyon

Background: There is increasing evidence that executive functions and attention are associated with gait and balance, and that this link is especially prominent in older individuals or those who are afflicted by neurodegenerative diseases that affect cognition and/or motor functions. People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) often present gait disturbances, which can be reduced when PD patients engage in different types of physical exercise (PE).

Objective: To assess the impact of aerobic exercise training (AET) using a stationary bicycle on a set of gait parameters (walking speed, cadence, step length, step width, single and double support time, as well as variability of step length, step width and double support time) and executive functions (cognitive inhibition and flexibility) in sedentary PD patients and healthy controls.

Methods: Two groups, 19 PD patients and 20 healthy adults, matched on age and sedentary level, followed a 3-month stationary bicycle AET regimen.

Results: Aerobic capacity, as well as performance of motor learning and on cognitive inhibition, increased significantly in both groups after the training regimen, but only PD patients improved their walking speed and cadence. Moreover, in PD patients, training-related improvements in aerobic capacity correlated positively with improvements in walking speed.

Conclusion: AET using stationary bicycle can independently improve gait and cognitive inhibition in sedentary PD patients. Given that increases in walking speed were obtained through increases in cadence, with no change in step length, our findings suggest that gait improvements are specific to the type of motor activity practiced during exercise (i.e., pedaling). In contrast, the improvements seen in cognitive inhibition were, most likely, not specific to the type of training and they could be due to indirect action mechanisms (i.e., improvement of cardiovascular capacity). These results are also relevant for the development of targeted AET interventions to improve functional autonomy in PD patients.

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