ALS and Biking: 5 Reasons Why Biking Is Your Ideal Exercise
Updated: Aug 9
ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is a progressive degenerative disease that impacts the nervous system. Specifically, ALS affects the motor neurons of the brain and spinal cord. As the disease progresses and motor neurons die, individuals with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movements throughout their bodies.
Many people know ALS as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the baseball player in the early 1900s, but the illness was first diagnosed in 1896 by a French neurologist named Jean-Martin Charcot. Since then, it has been estimated that 1 in every 50,000,000 people worldwide has some form of ALS.
The first signs of ALS affect the voluntary muscles, usually the limbs. Most symptoms start with muscle weakness, cramps, or twitches that are noticed as small, simple tasks become more difficult. Diagnosing ALS can be a complicated process, and it is recommended that a specialist confirm any diagnosis.
ALS is progressive, meaning that the disease and symptoms worsen over time. Unfortunately, there is no cure or preventative treatment for ALS, and most individuals die within five years of their diagnosis.
With increased funding over the last few years, more research is being done to find a cure and better understand the disease and how to treat the associated symptoms. There are medical treatments that can improve the quality of life for some patients, along with support groups and regular exercise.
If you or someone you love is grappling with being newly diagnosed with ALS or just looking for a way to exercise that is safe and effective, you want to consider riding a bike seriously. Biking is a classic way to stay in shape and enjoy the physical benefits of exercise for almost everyone, but ALS patients can benefit from cycling more than one would think.
Here are five reasons biking is the ideal exercise for people with ALS.
Low-impact Cycling is an aerobic form of exercise, meaning that it engages your cardiovascular system. When biking, your heart rate increases and this type of aerobic exercise can strengthen your heart and lungs, decrease your risk of heart and lung diseases, and lower blood pressure. Biking has all the benefits of aerobic exercise but is low-impact and less demanding ofyour body than other types of aerobic exercise like running or even walking. It is easier on your joints and causes less strain or injuries while requiring less physical skill or training. For ALS patients, biking is one of the safer exercise options as muscle control, balance, coordination, and strength decrease over time. Different types of bikes can be used and adapted to fit the abilities and needs of a person with ALS. Stationary bikes allow for exercise without leaving your home or workout space and can usually be adjusted easily to get on and off with or without assistance. Recumbent bikes allow a person to sit in a more reclined position while pedaling. This can make cycling easier if a person struggles with balance but still provides the aerobic aspects of cycling. Some handcycles are powered by arm movement instead of traditional leg pedals. This may be helpful if you are not able to control the muscles in your legs as well as you can manipulate your arms.
Strength All major muscle groups are activated when riding a bike, not just your legs. This includes more than just the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. You also engage your core muscles in the abdomen, back, chest, and arm muscles. Biking provides a complete workout and strengthens the lower body. Everyone can enjoy those advantages, but individuals with ALS benefit from improved muscle tone without overstressing muscles, which can lead to faster muscle loss. Regular, moderate exercise like cycling is the best choice for most ALS patients.
Stamina A significant concern for those with ALS is muscle stamina. Muscle strength is important, but stamina can make a difference in completing daily tasks. It is imperative to start a regular exercise routine in the early stages of the disease, specifically to maintain muscle stamina as the motor neurons begin to die. Stamina and endurance are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences between the two. Endurance is the physical ability to sustain physical activity or exercise for an extended period of time. Stamina is the physical and mental ability to continue any activity, not just exercise, for a long period. Increasing or maintaining stamina allows people with ALS to do more of the things they enjoy and complete the necessary day-to-day tasks that are part of living. Many people take for granted the ability to button a shirt, for example, but this simple task requires muscle stamina.
Coordination Keeping your body upright and balanced on a bicycle, even a recumbent bike, while moving your legs in a repetitive motion can improve coordination. As ALS progresses and muscle control is lost, so are coordination and balance. One concern ALS patients and caregivers have is the risk of injuries from falling. Improving and maintaining coordination can help prevent falls and the injuries that can arise from falling.
Reduced Anxiety and Depression The difficulties of battling ALS are both mental and physical, so it is essential to treat the cognitive and sometimes more obvious physical symptoms associated with the disease. ALS does not usually impact the senses or cognitive function, but that does not mean it doesn’t take an emotional toll. Many ALS patients experience increased stress, anxiety, and depression following diagnosis and the many changes to their lifestyles. Regular exercise, such as cycling, is proven to decrease anxiety and depression, whether there are underlying conditions or not. As you exercise, your body releases endorphins and other chemicals that help to eliminate feelings of stress and cultivate a sense of happiness. This is not to say that exercise is a cure for ALS's mental and emotional issues. Still, with a strong support system and professional help, exercise can improve the quality of life for many people battling ALS.
Saints to Sinners Bike Relay
Since 2009, the Saints to Sinners Bike Relay has brought people together to raise awareness and funds to fight ALS. The race travels from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Las Vegas, Nevada, and was created to honor Ron Frandsen and his battle with ALS.
Contact us today if you are interested in participating in Saint to Sinners Bike Relay as either a rider or volunteer. Together we can make an impact and someday beat this terrible disease that impacts the many lives of those we love.