Posted in Down syndrome, Physical Therapy and Special Needs

Blog #37~ Just Do It!


Blog #37~ Just Do It!

This week I want to hop on the fitness bandwagon.  I ‘m not really hopping on it.  2013 marks 30 years of teaching in the fitness industry.  The gym gets busy in January with folks coming in with their resolutions to get in shape.  Are there any trade secrets?  How can someone like Nick who has Down syndrome and autism keep fit?

Buff Nick is too cool by the pool….. 🙂

Nick 2 (2)

First of all there are physical attributes that are associated with Down syndrome which should be considered.  Here is what I pulled off the following website, is a great resource for more than just its well known cancer support:…”syndrome/#ixzz2Hu6k2Yg3

“Injuries may be caused by many of the symptoms of Down syndrome, including an underdeveloped respiratory and cardiovascular system, poor balance, perceptual difficulties, hypotonicity — muscles that have the ability to stretch far beyond their normal limits — hypermobility of the joints, and ligamentous laxity, which is flexibility of the joints associated with an increased risk of dislocation, says the National Center on Physical Ability and Disability or NCPAD. In approximately 17 percent of people, there may be a severe cervical cord disorder known as atlantoaxial instability that is characterized by laxity between the first and second cervical vertebrae. This makes spinal cord injuries much more likely. If a physician allows exercise, strict monitoring is important to avoid injury to the spinal cord and other areas of the body.” 

Nick had a spinal x-ray which ruled out atlantoaxial instability.  This screening should be done before any exercise program is implemented.  Because of his low muscle tone he received physical therapy and early infant and childhood intervention programs which showed us how to incorporate exercises into his daily routine and play time.

Here are just a few things we put into place at home:

*Sit your child on a small ball and do music time and bubbles to build core strength.

*Create a mountain with a bean bag chair and blankets.  Put a preferred music toy at the top so your child will have to climb up it to reach it.

*Tack musical toys up so your child will have to pull up to stand to play with them.

*Push toys can sometimes be too light, so add some weights to them so it is easier for your child to be stable and push them.

*Bean bags work great to work on vocabulary.  Line up a few flash cards and have your child toss the bean bag to the word you want them to recognize and speak.

*Balls, balls, balls.  Get a mini basketball hoop, Slo Mo balls and nerf balls are easier to catch.  I use to have Hank bounce ping pong balls on the coffee table to entice Nick to pull up to stand.

slo mo ball

Now that he is older I have incorporated more household chores in his routine like vacuuming, taking laundry baskets up and down the stairs, and unloading the dishwasher.


In school he takes P.E. and enjoys swimming, walking on the treadmill and even yoga.  Of course his favorite is dancing.  He slaps those headphones on and goes hard.  There are many programs through your local park district as well as Special Olympics that can enrich the lives of people who have special needs.

It’s all about consistency in having an active lifestyle, which should begin in childhood.   Increasing activity will help minimize obesity, decrease cardiovascular and type II diabetes risk factors. For aerobic and strength training, make sure adolescents participate in recreational and community activities.

What about the rest of us?  The same holds true about consistency in exercise and dietary intake.  It’s not rocket science.  Calories in and calories out is what it boils down to.  If you consume more than you burn then you are going to gain weight.

 Here’s my top 10 Tips…….

  1. Get medical clearance before starting any exercise and dietary program.
  2. It’s a good idea to enlist the help of a personal trainer who can help you set goals and a timeline. Be sure to ask about the FITT Principle when setting up your program (Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type of exercises.)
  3. Carve out a reasonable time of day that you can commit to and make it a part of your routine like brushing your teeth. (You wouldn’t skip brushing your teeth would you?)
  4. Pick activities that suit your interests and will keep you motivated.  Mix up your workouts so you incorporate all 5 components of fitness (Cardiovascular strength, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition and flexibility.)  Total fitness!
  5. Every little bit adds up.  Take the stairs, park further away, do some triceps dips while you wait for the shower to warm up, etc…
  6. Use it or lose it.  Did you know you start to lose training effects after just 48 hours of inactivity?
  7. Don’t obsess with the number on the scale. I always say your jeans don’t lie!
  8. Shop the outer aisles of the grocery store, fresh is best.  If you can’t pronounce the ingredients on a label it might be wise to leave it on the shelf.
  9. Have a support system in place.  Get some workout buddies that will hold you accountable.  There are also some great phone apps to help track and keep you motivated.  Check out the app called “My Fitness Pal.”
  10.  All in moderation, when it comes to eating.  Don’t deprive yourself of your favorite foods now and then.  If you know you are going out for a nice meal plan to eat lighter that day.  Watch those serving sizes too.  I love the visuals like one serving size of protein=a deck of cards, one serving size of pasta=a tennis ball, one ounce of chees=a pair of dice.  Check out and for more of these tips.

Finally let me borrow a slogan from Nike, “Just do it!” That’s what is in my noggin this week.  Cheers to feeling good and having fun while you’re at it.  Nick and I highly recommend putting on your favorite music and dancing it out!

photo (115)

~Teresa 🙂


Teresa is the Author of "A New Course: A Mother's Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism" and the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 29 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Teresa's passion is helping others understand and navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. She is a DS-ASD consultant, advocate, speaker, and author. Follow Nick's world on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism and on Twitter @tjunnerstall. For more information and media links, visit

2 thoughts on “Blog #37~ Just Do It!

  1. TJ
    Nick looks to be in great shape in the pic. I appreciate all your info on fitness for special needs and a reminder to hop on it. Right now I am focusing on doing yoga– for the stretching and internal organ massage. Thanks again for a wonderful blog.

    1. Glad to hear you are focusing on yoga, that is wonderful. By the way I added a few more pictures to this blog and will for last few I have posted. I was having trouble and only able to post one picture but I finally figured out the problem. Thanks for reading keep up the yoga, namaste 🙂

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