This gadget enabled my mom to exercise independently again
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After suffering a series of falls a little over a year ago, my mother, who has Parkinson’s disease, began requiring more assistance while walking. In addition to her walker becoming mandatory for daily use, she also began wearing a gait belt around her waist that someone holds while walking behind her. If she slips, we can quickly and easily catch her by pulling up on the gait belt.
My family and I moved in to help care for my mother after her fall, and we try our best to support her in every way possible. But at the end of the day, I’m often too exhausted to accompany her for exercise laps around the house and too busy to stand behind her while she does her marching and kicking exercises at the kitchen sink.Because her physical therapist sometimes had her ride an exercise bike during their sessions, I began looking into small bikes she could ride at home by herself that would require minimal assistance from me.
Not only would such a solution allow my mother to have more independence around her fitness goals, but it would also free up an additional 20 to 30 minutes for me each day. As any caretaker knows, time is a rare commodity and that extra time has given me time to fix dinner, do the laundry, work on an article, take the dog for a walk, put my niece to bed, or take a much-needed break. The solution? I bought my mother a DeskCycle under-desk pedal bike.
About the DeskCycle under-desk pedal bike
The DeskCycle under-desk pedal bike is a small bike that can fit under desks as low as 27 inches. The bike is 23 inches long, 20 inches wide, and 10 inches high; it can be easily tucked into a corner, closet, or under a desk. It has eight levels of difficulty, which are adjusted via a twist knob on the bike. The pedals come with foot straps to help keep feet secure, but they could be removed, if desired.
The battery-operated screen display can either be mounted on the bike or onto a separate desktop stand and tracks distance (in miles or kilometers), calories, time spent pedaling, and revolutions per minute.
Without knowing personalized health information (like your weight) and the actual power you put into the bike, the calorie counter isn’t especially accurate. In fact, DeskCycle says it can be off by 100%, but adding a more accurate calorie counter would also add $200 to the price tag, so the company left it off. They have a more accurate calorie counter and activity logger on their website, and you can set up an account if you’d like to track your progress. That said, my mother’s goal is consistent physical activity, not calorie counting, so we haven’t used this function.
The company also provides a Velcro tether that could be helpful on slippery floors, though it says that most users do not need to use it (we don't).
Do under-desk pedal bikes really work?
While we don’t always recommend them for able-bodied users because the limited movement doesn’t challenge the muscles in a functional way for day-to-day life, they can be an option for users with limited mobility.
"Under-the-desk exercise bikes may not take you far, but they can help you live longer and happier,” explains Mary Wood, exercise coordinator for the Wisconsin Parkinson’s Association (and whose Parkinson’s Movement and Music class my mother looks forward to every week). She adds: “Pedaling with your arms or legs improves circulation and gets your heart rate up, which increases blood flow to your brain. When you exercise, beneficial proteins (neurons) are released in the brain, keeping the brain cells healthy and promoting growth of new neurons.”
Wood recommends pedaling—on an under-desk bike or otherwise—to Parkinson’s patients because the act of pedaling “also improves overall motor function; reduces tremors, bradykinesia, and rigidity; and it improves your mood and cognitive function."
How can you find the right location and seat for under-desk pedaling?
When my mother first began using the bike, it took some trial and error to determine which set-up worked best for her—if the chair was too tall or too short, pedaling was more difficult, awkward, or uncomfortable. We found that, if needed, she could ride while sitting on her bed, but it was more difficult. She also said that, initially, it felt awkward to pedal while sitting in her wheelchair. But after I removed the extra cushion she generally likes to sit on, her body was lowered enough to make pedaling comfortable.
Her favorite places to sit are in the kitchen, where she pedals with the bike under the table while listening to the radio, and in the living room, where she sits in the recliner and looks out at her yard. My mother hasn’t owned a TV for decades, but riding while watching your favorite programs could be a great motivator.
What shoes should you wear for an under-the-desk bike?
We also learned that it’s easiest for her to pedal in her slide-on slippers, but if she’s already wearing sneakers, she won’t bother to change shoes to ride the bike. If her sneakered foot slides off the pedal, however, it’s more difficult for her to get her foot back in and to configure the pedal strap around the Velcro straps on her sneakers. With her slippers, it’s easier for her to easily slide her foot in and out without having to readjust the pedal straps. Riding without straps is also an option but we found her foot is more likely to slip off that way.
Not only has this bike helped my mom feel like she's getting daily exercise, she’s also told me how fun it is to ride and how it often feels like she’s not doing any work at all. Perhaps that means it’s time for us to increase the resistance on the bike to make the workout more challenging!
What I like about the DeskCycle
It’s very easy to use
To ride this bike, all you do is sit down, put your feet on the pedals (and into the straps, if using), and start pedaling. The screen automatically turns on when the pedals turn and automatically turns off when it’s not in use. To reset the time/distance/calorie counter, you press down and hold the button on the screen for three seconds. It’s the only button, so there’s no way to miss it.
It’s extremely quiet
One of the main reasons we purchased this device was precisely because it claimed to be so quiet. I often work on my computer in the same room that my mother is in, and it would be very distracting to work alongside a bike that’s humming, buzzing, and beeping all day. Fortunately, it’s so quiet that even when we’re sitting at the same table, I only hear a faint whooshing noise.
Because it’s designed to fit under low desks, it can be used under a variety of surfaces—we’ve tried it out on fluffy carpet, tightly-woven carpeted rugs, ceramic tiles, and wood laminate floors. (Note that you need sufficient floor space under the desk to accommodate the bike, so it may be difficult to use if the desk or table you’re using has large legs that jut out near your chair.)
My mother uses the bike in different rooms, and when she uses it in the kitchen (her favorite place to ride), I pull her chair out a bit to accommodate her knees under the lower table. Though not its intended function, it can also be used for an arm workout if placed on a table, which is an added bonus.
What I don’t like about the DeskCycle
The first thing I noticed about this bike when I took it out of the box (and assembled it in about 20 minutes) is that it’s very heavy. At 23 pounds, I’m able to pick it up and move it around the house, but it’s far too heavy for my mother to be able to lift and carry from room to room in her wheelchair. If upper body strength and mobility isn’t a challenge for you, or if you plan to leave the bike set up in a permanent position, this may not be an issue.
This bike is not cheap. At $200, it is one of the more expensive under-desk bikes on the market, but because we hoped my mother would use the bike frequently (which she does), we wanted it to last a long time, and we needed it to be quiet. It is thankfully all of these things. Given how much she likes the bike and how it's provided an alternative when we can't get to exercise walks and standing leg routines, we both agree it’s been a great investment.
The screen is hard to read
The screen would be much easier to read if it were backlit, but adding that feature would likely drain the battery faster and/or increase the price. This is a small inconvenience, and my mother can usually look down and interpret the numbers but she can’t make out the letters: R (for revolutions per minute), T (for time), D (for distance), and C (for calories), which all appear quite small. Some days, she’s able to bend down to read the letters but other days, it proves too challenging.
I have better vision than my mother, but I also have difficulty seeing the letters. That said, the bike offers an option to take the screen off the bike mount and attach it to a desktop mount, which would make it a lot easier for her to read. Given that we move the bike from room to room, we thought it would be easier to leave the screen on the bike itself. Were my mother to only use the bike in one location, transferring the screen to the desktop mount next to the bike would be a good solution.
Should you buy it?
Yes, if recommended by a medical professional
If you would benefit from exercising your legs (or arms) while seated—and your doctor agrees it is a worthwhile investment—this could be worth considering. The only reason I personally would discourage someone from buying this is if they are on a very tight budget and/or are less concerned with the noise that a more affordable under-desk bike may produce.
While the average person may be better off opting for more challenging equipment, this is an option for the disabled and seniors who need exercise but struggle with mobility.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.