The key to improving cognition in those with Down syndrome could be as simple as stepping onto a bike, researchers say.

Using a method called “assisted cycle therapy,” researchers at Arizona State University say they’re seeing improvement in those with Down syndrome. The approach involves rigorous exercise sessions on a specialized stationary bicycle, with a coach encouraging and monitoring the individual with Down syndrome throughout.

A small, pilot study two years ago found that adolescents with the chromosomal disorder were able to process information more quickly and had better manual dexterity even after just one therapy session. In contrast, voluntary exercise did not produce similar results, said Shannon Ringenbach, an associate professor of kinesiology at Arizona State who’s leading the research effort.

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Now Ringenbach has a $150,000 federal grant to study the impact of assisted cycle therapy on people with Down syndrome more in-depth.

In an ongoing study, participants attend 30-minute workout sessions three times each week. Families members have indicated that they’ve noticed an increase in talking, interaction and improved mood among those currently participating in the research effort.

“It’s really remarkable that by doing this kind of exercise, they begin to think faster,” Ringenbach said of the study participants who she believes are developing new brain cells. “It has the potential to dramatically change the quality of their lives. With early intervention in children with Down syndrome, it’s possible it could improve their IQ.”

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