University to look at link between physical and mental fitness

  • Watch a video explaining why the research project has been launched.

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) are part of new project which will investigate whether exercise can improve cognition for people with Down's syndrome.

ARU has teamed up with the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, BrainHQ, to launch The Mindsets study.

There is anecdotal evidence that exercise can lead to an improvement in mental fitness for people with Down's, but the effect has never been studied extensively.

Because of this lack of data, many doctors and parents don’t prioritise physical fitness for people with Down syndrome.

Lack of data means that physical fitness has not been prioritised by doctors Credit:

It is hoped that published findings from the study can lead to exercise becoming an integral part of life for people with Down syndrome.

The study will collect data on the impact of physical and brain exercises on physical and cognitive abilities over time. The custom-designed Mindsets app gathers exercise data from Fitbits along with data on brain exercises from BrainHQ.

Researchers will also carry out standard physical and cognitive assessments of participants at the beginning and the end of the study, making it possible to precisely measure the impact of exercise.

The study is being run by Dr Dan Gordon of Anglia Ruskin University. A pilot study has just started, and the researchers are now looking to recruit over 200 people, aged 18 or over, to take part in the next stage.

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Dr Gordon, Associate Professor in Cardiorespiratory Exercise Physiology at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, described the project as a landmark study he said:

Those benefits could include more independent living and make activities of daily living much easier to accomplish.

Ben Tarr, a board member of the Canadian Down Syndrome Society and father of Leo, who has Down syndrome, said:

“We have a number of cognitive therapies to help my son learn, grow, and become more independent as he gets older. But exercise just isn’t treated as an important part of that process.

“My wife and I have even heard some doctors go so far as to discourage strenuous exercise due to medical concerns such as heart defects and low muscle-tone. But if this study proves a link between the two, then that could have an enormous impact on the lives of people with Down syndrome around the world.”

  • For further information about the Mindsets study, or to register interest in taking part, please visit