We have already talked here about the importance of early stimulation of the physical and emotional skills of children with Down Syndrome. After the initial phase, they’ll have another great ally in their development: sports.
The benefits of physical activities are enormous for them, encompassing body and mind. In addition, sports promote the inclusion of DS children in society. So let's understand how it does so well for people with trisomy.
It’s good for their bodies
Everybody knows that, right? So much that it goes for all of us, regardless of our genetic condition, but the benefits are even more important for children, young people and adults with Down. This is because their condition brings a series of difficulties that sports help to soften or even reverse.
One is motor coordination, which develops at a slower rate in individuals with Down Syndrome. Sports help develop body and space notions, which reflects in coordination, balance and posture.
Sports activities also improve heart and lung capacity. During the physical practice, the body needs more oxygen, which is distributed through blood circulation. Sports strengthens the heart and respiratory system. People with trisomy usually have congenital heart and respiratory problems, so it is very important that they work this issues in a healthy way - and, of course, with professional monitoring, as we will explain later.
Thus, when coupled with a proper diet, sports also help combat and prevent obesity. People with Down are more prone to it, especially when young. And physical activities still help to reduce "bad" cholesterol, which is associated with being overweight. This happens, in part, due to the muscular flaccidity characteristic of people with DS. It is another point that sports help: the strengthening of muscle tone, which influences all development and physical abilities.
In addition to the benefits mentioned above, the sport develops the emotional and psychological side, this is extremely important for people with trisomy.
It’s good for their mind
When practicing sports, people have a better understanding of their abilities and limitations, which is part of building self-esteem. And it also promotes acceptance.
Children with Down are like any other child: they also misbehave from time to time! Activities like martial arts and sports in general help them to develop a sense of discipline, teaching that in life there are moments of playing and having fun and moments of concentration.
This becomes part of the psychological and even moral formation of the little ones. Obeying the rules of a game, respecting opponents and being humble are essential values that the “fair play” spirit teaches them. It also teaches them how to deal with wins and losses, a really valuable, lifelong skill. They also develop their inner strength, strenght of will and ability to overcome challenges, and so on.
It helps them to socialize and achieve their independence
"A sound mind in a sound body" is how the saying goes, right? Well, in addition to promoting health of body and mind, sports further promote inclusion, and this is very valuable for people with trisomy.
Whether in collective or individual sports, the social interactions with peers and coaches during exercises help children develop their social skills. Sports make them feel part of something where they work to achieve a common objective.
That way, they strengthen the bonds of friendship and the sense of fellowship and hierarchy that are part of any human social structure, as well as learning to resolve conflicts within fair rules and a spirit of respect.
Although highly recommended, it is important that some care is taken when children with Down start practicing sports. First of all, parents need to find out what kind of sport the child really likes. Being a bit uncomfortable when a change in routine happens is common in kids (DS or not), but that doesn’t mean they do not like sports. From collective sports like soccer, martial arts and even more "extreme" sports like surfing, all they need is to find the best alternative!
Also, due to their genetic conditions, such as propensity for heart diseases and respiratory difficulties, it is also very important that physical activity be done respecting the limits of the child. Coaches need to be very attentive and well-prepared to find the best way to get their child into the sport.
And finally, besides the attention needed during the physical activities, it is also necessary a medium to long term monitoring, to detect possible orthopedic deviations and other unwanted effects. Nothing that prevents people with Down from exercising or that decreases it benefits.
So, what are we waiting for? With encouragement and accompaniment these little champions have everything to lead a full, healthy and full of achievements. With or without a medal, fun and health are guaranteed!