Why CDSS’s new campaign is based on studying exercise

FCB's latest effort to help people understand Down syndrome aims to recruit participants and disprove a myth.

The Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) and FCB Canada’s work together has made a habit of bringing to light issues the general public might not be aware of, such as  the fact that voice assistants aren’t trained to recognize their voices, that “sorry” isn’t a helpful thing for a new parent to hear or that a decline in birth rates for people with Down syndrome is resulting in a corresponding lack of funding.

But the latest campaign from the two is turning its focus back to speaking to those with Down syndrome, asking them to participate in a study that could change the scientific community’s understanding of something that could have a major impact on their lives: exercise.

The new campaign explains that despite anecdotal stories that exercise has been beneficial for people with Down syndrome, many doctors discourage them from exercise, or tell parents that it’s not possible or important. Because of this, no scientific evidence has been collected to support making exercise a part of therapeutic programs.

“We have a number of cognitive therapies to help my son learn, grow and become more independent as he gets older,” Ben Tarr, a board member of the CDSS whose son has Down syndrome, said in a release. “But exercise just isn’t treated as an important part of the 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.”

To change that lack of data, the campaign is being launched in tandem with a new study by CDSS, Dr. Dan Gordon and his research team from Anglia Ruskin University, as well as Dr. Michael Merzenich and his team from software developer BrainHQ, working in a partnership facilitated by FCB.

The study will use “Mindsets,” an app developed by BrainHQ, to gather data from Fitbits and BrainHQ’s own exercises on the impact of body and brain exercises on the physical and cognitive abilities of participants over time. The study launched Sunday and will run for eight weeks, and the goal is to get at least 200 people to participate.

A major goal of the campaign is to find participants for the study. To that end, a series of videos will attempt to dispel myths about Down syndrome and fitness as a way to encourage participation and inspire exercise, such as that of Chris Nikic, the first person with Down syndrome to complete the Ironman challenge.

“If we’re successful in proving a link between exercise and cognition, then this study has the power to change the way we think about learning and development,” said Nancy Crimi-Lamanna, CCO at FCB Canada. “This will help to break down the systemic barriers that prevent people with Down syndrome from living their fullest lives. Beyond the Down syndrome community, this could also have far-reaching implications for others living with cognitive challenges.”