Exercise training may improve nervous system function in people with Down syndrome

By Gonçalo Mendonça, PhD
Motor Behavior Laboratory, Faculty of Human Kinetics, Technical University of Lisbon, Portugal

Persons with Down syndrome (DS) are at high risk of cardiovascular disease and may exhibit autonomic nervous system (ANS) dysfunction. ANS regulates unconscious processes in the body including heart rate and blood pressure. Exercise is an effective strategy for improving ANS function. It is not known whether exercise improves ANS function in people with DS.

What did you do in your research?
We explored if 12 weeks of aerobic and resistance exercise training enhanced the autonomic (nervous system) profile in persons with DS. The participants followed exercise training regimen 3 times per week.

What did you find out?
We found that persons with DS improved their resting ANS profile similarly to those individuals without DS. Moreover, the participants with DS (but not those without DS) improved their heart rate recovery (1 min) after training.

What are the take-home messages?
Exercise training may be an effective strategy for improving autonomic nervous system function and should be recommended to people with DS.

To learn more about these findings contact Bo Fernhall.

Full Journal Article
Mendonca, G.V., Pereira, F.D., and Fernhall, B. (2013). Heart rate recovery and variability following combined aerobic and resistance exercise training in adults with and without Down syndrome. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(1), 353-361.