By: Gcina Gumede
Each cell in the human body has a nucleus that contains genetic material which is a code for inherited traits. Typically, the human nucleus contains 23 pairs (46 in total) of chromosomes with each parent donating one half of each pair, this makes up the genetic code of a human. In individuals with down syndrome, an error of cell division occurs when the sperm and egg cell fuse during fertilisation. This error leads to these individuals having an extra, complete or partial, copy of chromosome 21 and they ultimately end up with 47 chromosomes. This error classifies them as having down syndrome.
The prevalence of down syndrome is about 1 in 1250 for mothers at 25 years, and rises to 1 in 100 for mothers at 40 years. Consequently, it puts older individual at a higher risk of birthing a child with Down syndrome.
Down syndrome alters the course of development of a person which leads to the characteristics that are associated with down syndrome. An individual living with Down syndrome reaches developmental milestones later compared to people without it. These people are likely to develop:
- Low muscle tone
- Decreased bone density
- Increased fat deposits
- Decreased cardiovascular fitness
- Poor coordination and fine motor skills
- Small hands and feet
- Decreased overall physical fitness
The effects of down syndrome may differ from one individual to another. These effects of this condition lead to early aging. They may also suffer from other conditions such a hearing loss, heart defects and eye diseases, to name a few.
People living with down syndrome also suffer from decreased cognitive abilities. This can lead to lower social skills, learning difficulties, impulsive behaviour, and a higher prevalence of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. With regular healthcare and therapy, people with down syndrome can be active members of society.
Down Syndrome and Exercise
It has been shown that physical activity can have significant, and possibly life changing, effects on people living with down syndrome. It can be difficult to implement exercise in the life of a person living with down syndrome because of the conditions they are predisposed to. They may be difficult to motivate, as well, due to the cognitive disabilities and their low attention span.
Individuals who participated in regular exercise showed to have superior fitness levels and a better quality of life as they struggled less with their activities of daily living. Participating in exercising for at least 150 minutes (moderate intensity) per week, which included resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, and balance and stability showed:
- Improved body composition (leaner)
- Better muscle tone and strength
- Enhanced bone health
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
- Increase uptake of vitamin D which helps in preventing osteoporosis
- Better blood pressure (closer to 120/80). See our instagram reel on Blood pressure
- Better balance and Improved coordination and motor skills
- Better overall functionality (as tested through functional tests)
- Increased social interaction
- Enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence
The changes in these parameters can bring about positive effects in a person living with down syndrome.
In conclusion, down syndrome predisposes a person to several health complications that they have little control of. Theses complications can negatively impact the person’s life in numerous ways. Exercise can be used a very powerful tool to combat some of these conditions. Consulting with a healthcare provider or Biokineticist can help create a personalised exercise plan that is safe and effective for the person with down syndrome. It is important to note that each person with Down syndrome is unique, and their abilities and needs can vary widely. Early intervention services, education, and supportive environments can help individuals with Down syndrome reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.