The research focused on Down syndrome babies, but it has broader implications when looking at early interventions to mitigate obesity, early onset diabetes, and other public health problems caused partly by inactivity, said lead author Rosa Angulo-Barroso, associate professor with the University of Michigan Division of Kinesiology and director for the program of Brain and Behavior Relationships in the Developing Child at the Center for Human Growth and Development.
The findings have potential applications for early interventions when trying to change the profile of an infant born into a family with a history of early onset diabetes or obesity, said Dale Ulrich, professor of movement science and physical education in U-M Division of Kinesiology.
"What we now can report is that with treadmill training we can produce a more physically active infant and toddler," Ulrich said. "Patterns of sedentary behavior are emerging at an earlier age in most children, especially in children with disabilities. Our research involving infants and toddlers with Down syndrome indicates that treadmill training early in life is a potential mechanism to reduce the earlier onset of sedentary behavior. More research is required to support this view."
The study looked at whether high intensity, individualized training for infants with Down syndrome produced immediate and short-term higher physical activity level in infants, when compared to low intensity, generalized treadmill training. It did, but surprisingly, researchers found that the increased activity levels lasted for months after the training had stopped, said Angulo-Barroso.
For Down syndrome children, the results are promising, researchers said. People with Down syndrome have much higher incidence of obesity and are more sedentary.
"We are having an impact in their more active lifestyle early on," Angulo-Barroso said.
Angulo-Barroso said that ideally, researchers would like to conduct a longitudinal study from infancy through the critical period of adolescence, which is a big determinant of your later activity level.
This also has implications for earlier learning, for all babies.
"A prerequisite to early learning in any young child is the ability to physically explore their environment," Ulrich said, "An infant or toddler who is displaying higher levels of physical activity is most likely engaging in more frequent and longer bouts of exploration. We are interested in testing this hypothesis with infants who have Down syndrome."
During the training, researchers increased the workout by increasing the number of minutes on the treadmill, the amount of weight on the ankles, and the speed of the belt as the babies passed certain milestones. Researchers put activity monitors on the babies trunks and ankles, and recorded how much time they spent in sedentary, light and moderate to vigorous activity.
The paper, "Physical activity in infants with Down syndrome receiving a treadmill intervention," is accepted in the journal Infant Behavior and Development and is online now at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/01636383.
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