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Mindsets Study

The Link Between Exercise and Cognition

The results are in! In 2020, the global research study Mindsets began seeking the answer to a really simple yet important question that no one had ever asked, can physical activity benefit cognitive processing for an individual with Down syndrome?

After hundreds of research hours and over 80 participants around the world, we are excited to announce the results of this research study by Dr. Dan Gordon of Anglia Ruskin University. This research is a missing piece of the puzzle for the Down syndrome community. The data collected will play a vital role in guiding our future Mindsets wellness program and improving the quality of life for people with Down syndrome throughout adulthood and aging.

Mindsets Overview

Mindsets is the first to investigate the effects of physical and cognitive exercise on people with Down syndrome. The study found that walking for 30 minutes three times a week can lead to improved information processing and attention after just
eight weeks.

The Participants

The participants in the Mindsets study – 40 females and 43 males from 10 countries, aged between 18 and 48 – were assigned to one of four groups for an eight-week period. Participants in an exercise-only group completed cardiorespiratory exercise, which involved walking three times a week for 30 minutes per session, while a second group took part in a series of cognitive and executive function exercises, provided by BrainHQ. A combined group did physical and cognitive exercises, while the fourth group did neither.

The Approach

Participants were provided with a Fitbit to record steps completed, distances covered, speeds, and heart rate, and they logged their activity and communicated with the research team through a bespoke Mindsets app. At the start and end of the eight-week period, all participants took physical and cognitive assessments. 

Mindsets Key Findings

Researchers noted a significant improvement in speed and accuracy of decision making for the exercise-only group, the cognitive training group, and the combined group.

Results suggest that exercise should be adopted within the Down syndrome community to promote physical and cognitive

Researchers found a significant reduction in errors and an increase in correct responses in a series of cognitive and executive function exercises in those who exercised.

“Improved cognitive function can lead to increased quality of life, which is important given this is the first generation of people with Down syndrome who will generally outlive their parents.”

Dr. Dan Gordon, Associate Professor in Cardiorespiratory Exercise Physiology at Anglia Ruskin University and Senior Author of The Mindsets Study

The Mindsets Wellness Program


Mindsets Wellness Program Updates

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The Mindsets wellness program will be specifically created with adults with Down syndrome in mind. We are gathering insights from the Mindsets Study researchers, industry experts, and self-advocates in the fitness space to make the program effective, engaging, and easy to follow. If you are interested in receiving updates about the program, please leave your information.

This Giving Tuesday, be part of making a difference in the quality of life of Canadians with Down syndrome by giving the opportunity for an active, healthy lifestyle throughout adulthood and aging. Donate today to support the development of the new Mindsets wellness program.

More About Mindsets Study

With the support of BrainHQ, we launched an 8-week research study facilitated by Dr. Dan Gordon from Anglia Ruskin University. Our goal was to scientifically quantify how much physical exercise affects mental fitness for individuals with Down syndrome.

Over 80 individuals participated in the two-year study. Depending on their role in the study, participants performed physical exercises from home, like light stationary biking or light jogging, as well as mental exercises and brain games provided by BrainHQ.

Dr. Dan Gordon and his team of researchers used this data to measure the precise impact exercise has on cognition over time, showing that the combination of light exercise and cognitive exercises can lead to improved information processing and attention after just eight weeks.

Canadian Down Syndrome Society

“I am a firm believer that exercise helps people with Down syndrome, but we need to continue to prove it. And the way we do that is with good research.”

Dr. Brian Skotko, MD, MPP, Director, Down Syndrome Program Mass. General Hospital


Who were the participants in the study?
The participants were collected from an international campaign by the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. A total of 83 English-speaking individuals 18 years or older with Down syndrome participated.
Why did CDSS conduct this study?

This study was conducted to collect the data necessary for creating an effective wellness program and to establish a link between exercise and cognitive ability for people with Down syndrome. The goal of publishing this research is to improve the quality of life for people with Down syndrome by encouraging an active lifestyle.

What is CDSS going to do with this information?

We are collecting insights and data to develop a wellness program supported by the findings from the Mindsets study. We have also publicly released the results of the study for other organizations to use to inform and guide the creation of their own wellness programs and initiatives.

What does this study mean for individuals with Down syndrome?

This study has shown that cognitive ability increases when combined with exercise. That data will help to shift the way fitness is overlooked when it comes to health for individuals with Down syndrome. Encouraging an active lifestyle will become commonplace, improving the quality of life for Canadians with Down syndrome.

Who were the researchers?

Lead Researcher:
Associate Professor Dr Dan Gordon. Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK

Research Assistant:
Miss Viviane Merzbach. Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK

Help develop the Mindsets wellness program for stronger bodies, stronger minds

Make a donation to CDSS today to support the development of the Mindsets wellness program and give Canadians with Down syndrome the opportunity for a healthy, active lifestyle.