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Adaptive bikes help a group of cyclists participate this summer in a Pedal and Roll event in Fargo, N.D., for people living with Parkinson’s disease. Photo courtesy of the National Parkinson’s Foundation of Minnesota

Encouraging cycle therapy: Pedal and Roll coming to town to promote benefits of activity for Parkinson’s disease

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Encouraging cycle therapy: Pedal and Roll coming to town to promote benefits of activity for Parkinson’s disease
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR — Going for a bicycle ride might be one of the last things that someone with Parkinson’s disease feels capable of doing.

But there’s a sizable body of evidence that the activity could well improve their lives both physically and emotionally.

To promote the “get out and ride” message, the National Parkinson Foundation of Minnesota is bringing the Pedal and Roll program to Willmar this week.

Founder Liz Ogren of the Twin Cities, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s seven years ago at age 44, will give an educational talk, “Prospering with Parkinson’s,” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Bethesda Wellness Center.

At 10 a.m. Friday, Ogren will lead a two-hour bike ride around Robbins Island, giving participants a chance to put the exercise principle into practice.

The event is part of an ongoing initiative by Bethesda Health and Housing to be a magnet center for creating a Parkinson-friendly community.

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects nearly one million Americans, causing difficulty with speech, balance, movement and coordination. The disease made its way into headlines this past week after the family of actor Robin Williams, who died by suicide last week, revealed he had been diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson’s.

Ogren, a teacher and mother of two, said she “basically hit the couch” after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007. Then her brother stepped in with prodding and encouragement to get active.

It made a difference, not only in helping her manage her symptoms but in overall well-being as well, Ogren said. “If he hadn’t gotten me off the couch, I’d probably be in a lot worse shape than I am today.”

In the spirit of paying it forward, she founded Pedal and Roll in 2011 to promote the benefits of movement in helping people with Parkinson’s disease live as well as possible.

“The way you battle chronic illness is you exercise and you take care of yourself so you can be the best you can be for as long as you can,” she said.

Why pedaling? For many people with Parkinson’s, it’s faster and easier than walking and allows them to cover more distance, Ogren said. Those who have trouble with balance can use a recumbent bike, tandem bike or other adaptive bike.

And it just feels good, she said. “It’s that childhood joy that everyone had of being outside and riding bikes.”

These days Ogren, now 51, goes biking almost every day. On rainy days she joins a spinning class. In winter she goes snowshoeing.

“You feel so much better after you’ve exercised,” she said. “Basically if you don’t use it, you lose it. It’s pushing yourself to keep moving.”

Her nonprofit Pedal and Roll holds four formal events in the Twin Cities each year and also does outreach across the state, “wherever we find people who will take us.”

Her presentation in Willmar Thursday evening and the bike ride at Robbins Island on Friday are open to anyone with Parkinson’s, their family, friends and the public. Participants can bring their own bikes and helmets to the ride. Pedal and Roll also will have several adaptive bikes and walking tools available, along with a limited number of helmets, for those who need them.

Ogren hopes the event will light a local spark that helps people with Parkinson’s disease connect through a shared experience and reap the physical, emotional and social benefits.

“We’ll have a good time being physical and enjoying the outdoors and being together,” she said. “Yes, we are all dealing with the same thing but together we can make a difference in each other’s lives. That is the big hope — that it will be sustainable.”

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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