GiGi’s Fitness Frontier 

GiGi’s Playhouse advances with the latest research on Down syndrome health 

Research. Data. Medical studies. 

…try not to yawn. We know all the above sounds a little boring (or a lot boring), but at GiGi’s, research and medical findings are imperative to what we do. Our programming is rooted in the latest research to ensure that we can best meet the needs of our participants and the Down syndrome community at large. 

Though research is vital to what we do, there’s an alarming lack of it when it comes to Down syndrome. Despite being the largest chromosomal disability in the US, Down syndrome is the least funded. Worse than that, people with Down syndrome are often deliberately shut out of medical studies and research, as is the case with Alzheimer’s clinical trials

Thankfully, some medical gamechangers are working to change that. 

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas Cardiovascular Research and Exercise Lab (CARE Lab) partnered with Dr. Sarah Mann, a physical therapist who specializes in working with Down Syndrome clients and helped devise our GiGiFIT programming, to explore the cardiovascular side of Down syndrome. 

Low heart rate is commonly associated with Down syndrome. In fact, the maximum heart rate for individuals with Down syndrome is 25-30 beats lower than the average population. The CARE Lab study is examining what effect this low heart rate has on exercise capacity. 

…Getting overwhelmed? Don’t worry. We get it. Medical studies are complicated, but we’re here to make sense of this study: what it is, why it’s important, and what its potential implications are! 

LET’S BREAK IT ALL DOWN: What exactly is this study? 

When we exercise, our heart beats faster to supply our muscles with more oxygen.  

It’s a simple concept that doesn’t exactly require a MD to grasp. 

But with Down syndrome, it’s a little more complicated. Individuals with Down syndrome’s heart rates and blood pressure work differently than the average population. It’s unclear whether these biological differences impact how blood flows during exercise. This is where the CARE Lab study comes in. The goal of the study is to determine what effect exercise has on blood flow and blood pressure in individuals with Down syndrome. 

Taking place over 12 weeks, the CARE Lab monitored participants (with Down syndrome) as they exercised three times a week. Throughout the study, the CARE Lab tracked blood pressure and blood flow regulation in their participants, noting any changes in cardiovascular health. 

Sounds simple? Don’t be fooled; this study has the potential to be incredibly impactful. 

We already know a variety of attributes that are commonly associated with Down syndrome: low muscle tone, joint laxity, poor balance. In fact, Dr. Mann (employing her Mann Method) designed our GiGiFIT program to ensure our weekly classes address these issues and empower our participants to improve their overall health and wellness. 

But this study has the potential to help us even more. If we learn how people with Down syndrome respond to certain types of exercise, we can better cater our programming and fitness classes to further improve our participants’ health. 


While the CARE Lab study has recently finished, we’re still awaiting the results. The CARE Lab is set to release its findings in October, and GiGi’s will be paying close attention. On top of that, Dr. Mann isn’t the only one involved in the study who has close ties to GiGi’s. The head of the CARE Lab, Dr. Thessa Hilgenkamp, serves on the board of GiGi’s Playhouse – Las Vegas! 

After the results of the studies are released, we’ll immediately get to work, incorporating them into our programming and GiGiFIT classes.  

As the research around Down syndrome evolves, GiGi’s evolves with it! 

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