If there is one question I get asked most on my Instagram it's of my experience of using a pedal exerciser for PoTS / dysautonomia. I like to post my progress using the pedal exerciser on my stories, both to keep a record for myself but also because I hope it motivates others too. I know seeing other people doing some light exercise prompts me a little to do so!
So I thought it was about time to share my experiences of using my pedals, as I call them, and how they help me manage symptoms.
I am not a medical professional and this post does not constitute medical advice in any way. It is simply my story of using a pedal exerciser for PoTS, and is for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before starting a new exercise regime.
What is a pedal exerciser?
A pedal exerciser is basically the same sort of pedals and movement that you would get on an exercise bike, but without the actual bike bit(!). As you can see in the picture below, there is no frame or seat and instead you sit on your own chair or sofa and pedal away.
One advantage of the pedals then is that they are much smaller than a bike and the ones I use can be folded if you want to store them. They are also fairly lightweight and definitely far cheaper than an exercise bike.
Using a pedal exerciser for PoTS / dysautonomia
So how did I come to use a pedal exerciser? Well, many years ago I was diagnosed with PoTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) and advised by my cardiologist and then a specialist physiotherapist to try and strengthen my leg muscles as much as possible to help with blood pooling. As POTS UK describes, '[i]ncreasing leg strength and core muscles (the muscles that support the spine) will improve blood return from the legs to the heart and brain'.
Basically, my blood was falling to my feet when I stood up, which is definitely not what you want. It is quite common with PoTS though. At that point any form of upright exercise was out of the question due to feeling faint and dizzy. I mean, just walking to my medical appointments was hard enough . . .
My physiotherapist advised recumbent exercise, which is where you are sitting or lying down. So I started swimming once a week, and using the pedal exerciser as she suggested. I started slow, with just three minutes a day. Then we gradually increased time and speed (and then resistance) as my fitness improved.
It took a long time to get my fitness up, as a CPET test had shown that I was very much below average for my age and gender. As the years have passed I have been fortunate to improve my dysautonomia symptoms to the point that I can walk and even run (although only on a good day!).
The advantages of the pedal exerciser
Pedals are relatively cheap, don't take up too much space and can obviously be used at home rather than having to join a gym. And it doesn't matter whether it is pouring rain outside or gale force winds, you can sit on your couch and pedal in the warmth of your home. Personally I like to watch a YouTube video at the same time . . .
As already mentioned, they are used sitting down, which is the form of exercise recommended by PoTS UK to start with. Personally I find it most comfortable to slightly lean back when using the pedals with my legs more stretched out, and I know some people actually lie down to use them.
The disadvantages of the pedal exerciser
I can't think of any real disadvantages to be honest, other than the metal heats up quickly. So be sure not to touch it after use, and move it by holding the plastic bits instead.
Personally I find it helpful to use a non-slip mat for underneath otherwise it can slide around a bit which is rather annoying!
And of course, you will need to have some self-motivation to actually use them! I know I struggle with it at times, especially during winter when the dark weather somehow makes me want to curl up on the sofa and watch a film rather than work up a slight sweat.
Tips for using the pedal exerciser
Most importanty, follow the advice of your doctor or physiotherapist / physical therapist and start super slow with only a few minutes, or whatever they suggest. Trying to do 30 minutes from the outset will likely make you feel worse, and discourage you from keeping it up.
Adjust the positioning to what feels best for you. Personally I can't sit too upright when using as it makes my cranky knee annoyed, so it's better for me to lean back a bit and have my legs more outstretched. Everyone is different though, so have a play around with what feels most comfortable.
Make it fun by watching TV or YouTube, scrolling Instagram or listening to a podcast. I've even been known to eat snacks at the same time . . .
Pedals in lockdown
Now truth be told I probably wouldn't be using my pedal exerciser right now if we weren't in lockdown. I would prefer to go for a walk or to use the bike at the gym. But you know, 2020 /2021 . . . So right now I am home and very thankful that my pedals were in the loft ready to be dusted off and put to use again.
They have been such a helpful way to exercise again, and I truly believe they have kept my fitness up while at home. I had worried that my dysautonomia would worsen severely given that I am not out walking very often, but so far so good. I've had weeks where symptoms have flared for sure, but I don't feel there has been a progressive worsening.
Which pedal exerciser?
There are lots of pedal exercisers to choose on Amazon, which is where I purchased mine. I obviously haven't bought more than one brand so can't do a comparison. There are lots of different price points and features, so have a look at which suits you best.
Personally I use the Wakeman pedal exerciser and my Instagram friends will have seen me using it a ton of times! It isn't the fanciest one on the market, but it is still working fine after more than five years. It has got a little clunky, but I suspect that is age and that it has been used a lot, plus it probably needs a touch of oil.
Strangely, the one I bought seems to be sold by different brands, so it is the same product (they look identical) but come under different companies. Not sure why . . .
(For my UK readers, it is sold as the Vinteky pedal exerciser)
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Please follow the advice of your doctor as to all medical treatments, supplements and dietary choices, as set out in my disclaimer. I am not a medical professional, and this post, as well as all other posts on this blog, are for informational purposes only.