People with Down Syndrome (DS) may have better brain function if they are encouraged to exercise, according to a study by Shannon D. R. Ringenbach, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Arizona. After her pilot study showed encouraging results, she recently received a $150,000 grant from the Eunice Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to continue her research, according to Sarah Auffret’s report in Medical Express.
The Mayo Clinic explained that Down syndrome is “the most common genetic cause of learning disabilities in children.” In healthy humans, your cells contain 23 pairs of chromosomes that carry the genetic code that programs how your body will develop. Children with Down Syndrome are born with an extra chromosome 21, so that they don’t develop normally.
As a result, children with DS generally suffer from a greater or lesser degree of cognitive impairment. Their motor skills can also be affected, sometimes severely.
Exercise is not a new concept for people with DS. For instance, Jillita Horton for Yahoo! Voices is a personal trainer who recommends martial arts like karate to help DS patients improve their strength and coordination. She likes the martial arts because instructors tailor workouts to the needs of each individual, including people with challenges like DS. But she also noted that children with DS have participated in many extremely challenging events in the US Special Olympics, including gymnastics and soccer.
It’s important to have a doctor or physical therapist’s go-ahead before you start the training. A 2010 study published by the National Institutes of Health showed that people with Down Syndrome have trouble exercising without becoming exhausted because they don’t use oxygen well and their poor motor skills can make them clumsy.
It’s a vicious circle. Because they’re clumsy, the DS patients may get tired, and, because they’re tired, they don’t exercise, and, because they don’t exercise, they don’t improve their motor skills.
What’s new about Ringenbach’s study is that she used a specialized bike to help exercisers safely push themselves farther than they could normally go. As a result, they were able to move at levels that benefit the cardiovascular system — not always easy for people with Down Syndrome. “Doing this kind of exercise, they begin to think faster,” Ringenbach told Auffret. “We believe they develop new brain cells. It’s possible it could improve their IQ.”
Ringenbach’s new motorized bicycle may be just the technology needed to provide safe, effective exercise to people with Down Syndrome.
[photo by Zniper courtesy flickr]