The Specialized Foundation Improves Kids’ Lives Through Cycling

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Most of us make the decision to rip around on two wheels because it’s fun. We commute to work, seek peace and solitude, get fit, challenge ourselves, or shred singletrack as hard as we can. But new science suggests two wheels can go beyond fun and meaningfully help a large, young and vulnerable swath of our society heal and achieve.

THE FOUNDATION

Kids like Conner show remarkable benefit from the program. Check the videos below.

Last year, Specialized sponsored research, including two pilot programs, with middle schools which delivered promising early indications that kids with attention issues (ADHD), and even those without, who take part in cycling activities, will better prepare their brains for learning.

It’s been well established that exercise, in all its forms, helps mood and cognition. But there has been very little research that pertains to ADHD, or any learning disability. Not only did this study show cognitive benefits to those types of students, the research showed that bicycling, specifically, may have benefits that help special cognition needs more so than other exercise therapies might.

Science! She hit me with technology.

The success of this study led to the formal creation of The Specialized Foundation 501(c)3, which will pursue original research and cycling programs that prepare kid’s brains for learning on an ongoing basis.

““As a company of passionate riders, we intuitively recognize the benefits of exercise and cycling on our own abilities to focus," reads the press release penned by Spec's CEO, Mike Sinyard, "but we were astounded by the results of the study as a potential new symptom management tool for children and their families to consider."

Just doing this...THIS... helps you in school.

For the study, RTSG Neuroscience Consultants scientifically measured the effects of cycling on the attention capacity of 11 to 14 years olds. Participants biked outdoors five days per week for 30 minutes before school, for one month. The project measure cognitive, emotional/social, as well as balance and physical changes before, during and after the program (with an extensive battery of tests, results available here). They found cycling led to an increase in several aspects of attention, as well as acute and longer-term benefits in cognition.

According to Dr. Lindsay Thornton, a sports psychologist with RSTG specializing in brain imaging techniques, sports science and physical performance measures (fit THAT on a business card), “[The study’s] findings are profound and have the potential to change the way we manage symptoms of children with attention deficit disorders/difficulties... The findings also indicated there may be factors more unique to cycling that make it especially effective when it comes to the brain benefits of exercise.” Exciting stuff.

WHAT’S NEXT

I had the opportunity to chat with Lucy August-Perna, who now leads the new foundation, about its benefits and plans for the future.

"Step #1: We figure out what further research is required from clinical psychiatrists and neuroscientists–we feel there is a lot of potential there for non-pharmacologic intervention. Some kids may be able to manage their condition through exercise. We have to look at things like: what are the triggers? What has worked in different scenarios? Can biking dovetail into other existing treatments? There will not be one solution that works for everything. It may be a nice supplement to a course of treatment.

Step #2: Apply the research done in step #1. What’s working and what more can we do? So far, suburban areas with strong leaders for the program have better results than others. We’ve found a strong school champion is critical. Right now we’re focusing on middle school because the kids are big enough to ride a bike, but young enough to be influenced and see a remarkable difference."

Kids gonna be kids.

Cycling is also egalitarian and accessible. It’s an alternative activity that can be a good option for kids who aren’t jocks or athletes. Success is not measured by performance, but it’s measured by effort.

Of course it won’t matter unless a kid has access, so Specialized will have to work on biking programs. "We have to tackle barriers to entry, affordability, accessibility, and bike paths. The Foundation is about overcoming ALL these barriers to the tools for wellness."

For example, the city of Boston does a good job of working with doctors to prescribe a bike share membership for people with certain health risks; and subsidizing that membership for some people. Of course there are opportunities in healthcare that may or may not include a prescription to bike. The Foundation will also work closely with schools and local bike shops to implement cycling curriculum in PE programs.

Ms. August-Perna made sure to emphasize that Specialized is in this for the long term. As are the kids with ADHD. Below find a Today Show piece that features the program.

To find out more please visit the foundation's site and to join the movement on social media use #PedalsOverPills.

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