You might know them by their big smiles and hugs, or maybe their warm personalities. Most of us know or have met someone with Down Syndrome. It’s hard to forget their genuine love for people. But you may also know them for their different features. Genes carry the information responsible for all of our inherited traits and are grouped by chromosomes. Typically, the nucleus of a cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited from each parent. Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a part or an extra chromosome 21. This additional gene causes the characteristics associated with this diagnosis which typically present as low muscle tone, short stature, slanted eyes, and a crease across the center of the palm.
Looking at someone with Down Syndrome, one might think them less capable or less agile, and though they may tend to not want move as much due to their low tone and thick boneset, it is because of those reasons that movement is so crucial. Let’s look at the why and how, to make sure individuals with Down Syndrome get good physical exercise and keep moving throughout their lives!
Just like with others, an individual with Down Syndrome must be educated as to the how and why of a healthy body including the need to have regular exercise. If there are more severe limitations, physical therapy may be necessary but otherwise, good, clear meaningful education that may include books, videos, visual charts, lists and regular physical education should be included. Some individuals with Down Syndrome may require repetition, individual attention or more time to adjust. Education should include the reasons behind good a good exercise program, regular daily exercise and how to monitor exercise.
People with Down syndrome may have a reduced capacity for exercise for reasons such as congenital heart defects, muscle hypotonia (low tone), low cardiovascular fitness, decreased muscle strength, poor coordination and balance and an intellectual challenge. Reasons may also include:
- lower muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness than a typically developing child
- parent’s concern about things such as the safety of their child
- reduced physical or behavioral skills of the child with Down syndrome
- a lack of accessible programs.
Yet a good program that includes individual education can have monumental effects. Having a good exercise program will highly depend upon family support and influence, accessible programs at school, afterschool and community, as well as encouragement from family, friends and coaches.
Some tips to helping improve exercise and fitness in individual with Down Syndrome may include:
- Choose active games over sedentary ones such as kicking, throwing, climbing and running, hide n seek, Simon Says, hopscotch and target games.
- Choose an activity your child enjoys such as dance, swimming or gymnastics
- Have a trampoline, bicycle or swing set available
- Use a bicycle to get places. Make it a family priority.
- Take the stairs instead of elevators
- Spend time outdoors working, playing and socializing.
- Go on a hike
- Encourage chores and heavy work around the house
- Have the entire family work outside in the yard
- Join a sports team
- Be sure some of the activities include weight bearing exercises such as lifting, pushing and pulling
- Balance should be a component of a good program such as using balance beams, swings or obstacle courses
- Coordination is a key component such as playing ball
- Aerobic activity such as running, biking or swimming is imperative for good cardio fitness.
Teaching individuals with Down Syndrome can be a win-win for everyone involved as the teacher often becomes the student. Find a good friend or peer support to buddy up with an individual and an already existing programs may just be the perfect fit. An adapted physical educator can be a great asset to a physical education program and assist with inclusion activities that everyone can enjoy. Physical exercise and movement not only will have a lifelong impact on the ability to move, but it can have a healthy impact on the cardiovascular, digestive, respiratory, and emotional systems as well.