Down Syndrome and Physical Activity
Down syndrome, a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome 21, may pose social and environmental barriers to physical activity. Yet, it’s important to remember that these challenges do not define those who navigate this journey.
Physical activity can positively impact those living with Down syndrome by improving motor skills, bone and muscle strength, coordination, and overall physical health. Participating in physical activities such as swimming, adaptive sports, dancing and hiking also helps to improve your mood, promote skill development and enhance social interaction.
At Maple, our goal is to inspire a positive change in the lives of those living with Down syndrome. We firmly believe that physical activity and social interaction are integral to enhancing our quality of life. We are here to support you in discovering the remarkable advantages that participation in sports, athletics, strength building, and other activities can bring to you or your loved ones life.
How does Down syndrome affect physical activity?
Thankfully, advances in medical care and early intervention have significantly improved the overall health and life expectancy of individuals with Down syndrome. However, given the increased susceptibility to various chronic diseases, including heart conditions, respiratory issues, lower immunity, gastrointestinal disorders and thyroid problems, people living with Down syndrome benefit significantly from engaging in appropriate and tailored physical activities.
Down syndrome can affect physical activity in several ways due to the characteristics and challenges associated with the condition. Of course, we are all unique, and the impact will vary greatly from person to person. Some of the elements we need to take into consideration when creating a physical activity plan for people living with Down syndrome include:
- Muscle hypotonia – Many people living with Down syndrome have low muscle tone (hypotonia), which can affect strength and coordination. This can make it more challenging to engage in certain activities and sports.
- Joint laxity – Also known as hypermobility is common in people with Down syndrome. It can affect stability and increase the risk of joint injuries during physical activities.
- Balance and coordination – Challenges in this area can impact the ability to take part in activities that require precise movements or maintaining equilibrium, such as riding a bike or gymnastics.
- Heart and respiratory issues – People with Down Syndrome may have heart or respiratory conditions that can affect the endurance and ability to engage in aerobic activities.
- Sensory sensitivities – Sensitivity to touch or noise can influence comfort levels and participation in group physical activities.
- Communication and instruction – People with Down syndrome may benefit from clear and patient communication during physical activity sessions.
- Adapted instructions and cues can help them to understand and perform exercises more effectively.
- Motivation and confidence – Building motivation and confidence is crucial. Encouragement and positive reinforcement plays a significant role in helping people with Down syndrome feel more confident and motivated to stay active.
Is exercise good for Down syndrome?
Despite these challenges, we must recognise the positive impact that physical activity can have on the overall health and well-being for people living with Down syndrome. The key is to find the physical activity that best suits our unique needs and offer the support we require to participate safely and healthily.
Engaging in physical activities can enhance cardiovascular health, muscle strength, endurance and flexibility. It can also help to improve gross and fine motor skills, balance, coordination and body awareness. Furthermore, weight-bearing activities like walking, running, and strength training can contribute to better bone density, which can reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
When combined with a balanced diet, exercise can help individuals with Down syndrome manage body weight, reducing the risk of obesity-related health issues. Not to mention the profound effects exercise can have on our emotional well-being, while offering a chance to interact socially with others, building friendships, enhancing social skills and reducing anxiety and depression.
What are good activities for people with Down syndrome?
What works for some of us, may not work for the next person. The key is to choose activities that match your abilities, interests and comfort levels. Some suggestions of good activities to consider for people living with Down syndrome include the following:
- Swimming is often a favourite activity among individuals with Down syndrome. It provides a full body workout, is gentle on joints, and can improve cardiovascular fitness. Being in the water can also provide a calming sensory experience.
- Dance classes, including adapted dance programs, can help to improve coordination, balance, and motor skills while also allowing for self expression and a positive sensory environment.
- Walking and hiking in nature can be an enjoyable way to stay active, connect with the outdoors as well as provide a calming and educational environment.
- Sports such as basketball, football and tennis can all be adapted to accommodate different abilities. This is a great way to participate in team sports in a safe environment.
- Martial arts classes such as karate and taekwondo can be highly beneficial for physical and mental development.
- Riding a bike, especially adapted tricycles or bicycles with additional support, can be a fun and effective way to improve balance and coordination.
- Strength training exercises using resistance bands or light body weights can help to improve muscle tone and strength.
How can my Support Worker help with Physical Activity?
Down syndrome is a unique condition, it’s important to keep in mind that what may prove effective for some people might not necessarily be the right approach for others. With the assistance of a compassionate and skilled support worker, you can collaboratively craft a customised plan. Together you can discover activities that bring joy and align with your needs, set goals, and adjust your routine when necessary.
At Maple, we can help you to seek out programs at local community centres, schools or specialised organisations such as Athletics NSW. Together with your support worker, physical therapist or fitness instructor you can create a personalised plan to incorporate your choice of physical activities into your daily routines.
Reach out to Maple Community Services today to find out more about incorporating physical activity into your routine and connecting with our highly knowledgeable and competent team.