It’s just a hypothesis, but an article about Parkinson’s disease in today’s New York Times may suggest an approach to brain injury rehab. The idea is that forced exercise is more beneficial to the brain than unforced exercise.

First, consider the lowly lab rat. The NYT article report a 2008 study in which rats forced to run wound up with significantly more new brain cells after eight weeks than those who ran when they chose, even though the latter animals ran faster.  Another experiment found that , mice that were required to exercise on treadmills subsequently performed better on cognitive tests than those given access to running wheels. (A lot of humans may feel like lab rats on treadmills in our jobs, but there are distinctions.)

That brings us to Dr. Jay L. Alberts, a brain injury rehabilitation researcher formerly at Emory but now at Cleveland Clinic.  He put Parkinson’s patient volunteers on tandem bikes where they would be forced to keep up with the furious pace set by the other rider. After eight weeks of hour-long sessions of forced riding, most of the patients in Dr. Alberts’s study showed significant lessening of their tremors and better body control, improvements that lingered for up to four weeks after they stopped riding. Functional M.R.I. scans showed that, compared to Parkinson’s patients who hadn’t ridden, the tandem cyclists’ brains were more active.The effects were significantly better than in unforced exercise where the patient set the pace.

Whether this research might lead to developments benefiting people who have had strokes,  traumatic brain injury (TBI) or even merely fuzzy brains remains an open question. But this graying geezer with undiagnosed ADHD may turn up the pace on the treadmill at the gym just in case it might do some good.


Ken Shigley is president of the State Bar of Georgia, a Certified Civil Trial Advocates of the National Board of Trial Advocacy  (one of 20 in Georgia) and author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (West 2010). He represents individuals and families in cases involving serious physical injuries, including brain injury, neck and back injury, spinal cord injury, burn injury and wrongful death. Contact us for a free consultation.