Stay Active

5 reasons why individuals with Down syndrome should participate in sports or physical activities

five reasons to stay active

Participating in athletic activities is an excellent way for everyone to improve their physical fitness and health. For persons having Down syndrome (DS), there are some specific ways in which athletic participation may improve the overall quality of life.

Below we explore five specific benefits of physical activity for individuals with Down syndrome

1) Decreased Obesity Levels

By the time children reach adolescence, parents report that teens with DS are less physically active than other teens. As we know, a sedentary lifestyle is linked to a higher potential for obesity.

Regardless of activity levels, those having DS are often at a higher risk for obesity already due to hypothyroidism and decreased resting metabolism.

Participating in athletics encourages the development of an active lifestyle which children can carry into adulthood. This has the potential to increase metabolism and decrease the likelihood of obesity.

2) Greater Respiratory Capability

One of the physiological byproducts of Down syndrome is a decreased level of red blood cells. Since red blood cells carry oxygen, a lower level of these cells leads to less available oxygen for the body to use for aerobic activities.

Studies have shown that regular aerobic and resistance training are able to condition the body to better utilize available oxygen as well as to increase the maximum amount of oxygen it is able to take in. [3]

3) Improved Cardiac Function

Down syndrome is linked to an underdevelopment of the cardiovascular system with one study showing that persons with DS have, on average, a 10% lower maximum heart rate than others their age. They also tend to tire more easily and quickly during exertion. [4]

The good news is that in the long-term, consistently engaging in an aerobic and resistance athletic training program has been shown to lead to improved cardio capability. This means that participants can be more active and for longer periods of time than they were before starting the training program. [5]

4) Higher Bone Density

Bone density is an important indicator of the overall strength of our bones and a higher bone density equates to a lower likelihood of breaks. The more physically active a person is, the higher their bone density is likely to be. Jogging, running, and similar impact sports are especially beneficial in terms of improving bone density.

Down syndrome is tied to a 26% lower initial bone density level before factoring in physical activity. This makes it especially important for persons having DS to engage in aerobic athletic activities which aid in increasing bone density. Since bone density naturally declines with age, the earlier these activities are started, the better. [6]

5) Increased Muscle Strength

Higher levels of muscle strength, especially in the legs, make everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, and getting out of chairs easier.

If a person has decreased lower limb muscle strength as is common with Down syndrome, extra muscles are often used to compensate during physical exertion. The use of these additional muscles means that the body has higher oxygen needs and tires more rapidly.

With consistent resistance training and athletic activity, muscle strength can be built, and endurance increased.

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