By Elizabeth Kelly
One of the many benefits of exercising in the water of a heated pool is the relief from arthritis pain and stiffness. Because of the soothing warmth and buoyancy of the mildly temperate water, even those with arthritis can participate in an exercise program that not only tones and strengthens the body, but also increases circulation in a gentle, relaxing and fun way.
Mollie Lingvall, an aerobic instructor at William Shore Memorial Pool and Sequim Aquatic and Recreation Center (SARC), holds a current certificate from the Arthritis Foundation Aquatic Exercise Program and considers her training with them as “the best training I’ve ever had.” Her first training session with the Arthritis Foundation was in Poulsbo in 2009 and in April of this year, she went to Spokane to be retrained for her current certification. “They use their own instructors,” Lingvall said, “and have very specific guidelines. The day-long session consisted of a half-day book learning and a half-day in the pool.”
Continuing, she explained, “To be a good water exercise instructor, you must first of all know your audience – their physical abilities, age, injuries, surgeries and their ability to move successfully in the water.” She added that the water’s resistance and assistance are the best tools for guiding and instructing people through the exercises. With time and patience, their bodies will be strengthened and they will build endurance to keep moving. Since exercising in the water is 12 percent harder to do than out of the water, any kind of exercise – walking, jogging or an aerobic workout is a win/win for the participant, she said.
Born in Port Angeles, Lingvall learned to swim in the “old, outdoor pool that was located where the courthouse parking lot is today.” She worked at the pool as a swim teacher, lifeguard and cashier when she was in high school. “That was when it cost 26 cents for kids to swim and 52 cents for adults.” Besides being a water aerobics instructor, today she also teaches swim lessons to both children and adults, is a lifeguard and teaches water walking exercises. She holds certifications from the American Red Cross for water safety instructor and lifeguard.
Lingvall believes that the deep-water exercises provide the best exercise. “You put on a flotation belt and jog away without ever touching bottom. There is no impact on your knees, hip or ankle joints.” And, she added, the exercises can be modified for those with injuries, illness or who are recuperating from surgeries, giving them the ability to move safely with the right exercise to strengthen a particular part of their body and help them in the process of getting well and becoming fit.
Not only does the Arthritis Foundation recommend water exercise to keep your joints moving and to restore and preserve your flexibility and strength, it also claims the exercises can help to protect your joints against further damage. The foundation believes that regular exercise also can lead to mood enhancement, an improved sense of self-esteem and a feeling of accomplishment.
“I have seen people come in using walkers or canes and shortly after I see them come in and there are no walkers with them,” Lingvall said, adding with a smile, “That does my heart good.” Many times after joint replacement surgery, patients will be told by their doctor or physical therapist to follow up their therapy with water exercises.
Karen Hunt, instructor for balance classes, along with shallow and deep-water aerobics, agrees. “When a new person comes in, we always ask them what sort of experience they have had in the water, what they want to get out of their pool exercises and what their physical abilities or disabilities are. The important thing we tell them is to take it easy at first and not to try to do too much. Everyone works at his or her own pace,” she said. Shallow water balance classes are good therapy for people recovering from a stroke or with Parkinson’s disease, she explained.
Beginning participants in water aerobics would be introduced to an instructor and told to stay near the teacher during the classes for the first few sessions. The various types of equipment used would be explained to them and they would be carefully watched. Hunt explained that a basic routine usually starts with slow stretches, after which slightly more vigorous warm-up exercises would start. After a few minutes, the body warms up and the cardio exercises (where the heart rate is raised) can begin. During the routine the swimmers always are reminded to take deep breaths – the more oxygen they have the better for their energy and circulation, she said. Reminders to relax their hands and shoulders between exercises also are given. A cool-down period at the end of the class is helpful to stretch and relax all the muscles used in the routine.
Hunt has been living and teaching water aerobics in Port Angeles for nearly two years, having moved to the peninsula from Santa Monica, Calif. She learned from personal experience how beneficial water exercises can be. In 2006, she had back surgery and after undergoing post-surgery physical therapy, she continued her therapy on her own by going to a pool. “You start with baby steps,” she said, “but any kind of movement is good.” Just walking back and forth in shallow water is a good way to start. One benefit is that you are safe when walking in the water. “If you fall, you don’t hurt yourself,” she added. “You might be sore, but you’re not going to break anything.”
Receiving her initial training in California, Hunt also holds an Arthritis Foundation certificate for water aerobics training. She said that one of the points stressed by the foundation is posture and positioning.
“If a person is not using good posture, they are misusing the exercises. We constantly remind people while they are doing the routines to hold in their stomachs, tighten their core muscles, hold their head straight and to use the water as a resistance,” she said.
“I like doing the workout myself,” Hunt said. “It reminds me of what I should be doing and how I can better teach and explain the exercises to the class. I like helping others,” she said.
Making it fun along the way is one way to keep the water aerobic classes going, Lingvall added. “We change it up with music, using water exercise equipment such as noodles, kick boards, balls, water horses and a variety of buoys.” Occasionally someone will want to join the class who cannot swim or has a fear of getting into the deep (12 feet) water. Lingvall explained that they could start by wearing more than one floatation device and staying in a corner of the pool where their hands can easily grab onto the edge. That gives newcomers the comfort they need until they gain their confidence. After just a few sessions they usually are performing the exercises along with the entire class. “You don’t have to know how to swim to take part in the deep water class.” She said she gleans ideas for new moves when she works as a lifeguard and watches other instructors at work. She also gets ideas from computer programs.
Regular water exercise can only benefit your body in ways that seem miraculous. It definitely has the power to give you some flexibility, strength, balance, stability and endurance, Lingvall believes. Those who miss several classes due to travel or other circumstances tell her that their bodies craved the feeling of being in the water and doing the routines they had become used to.
While water aerobics are commonly advised to those people with arthritis or for older adults, participants of all fitness levels and ages can reap the benefits associated with the routines.
Lingvall said the average age of the people in her classes (both men and women) is 60 and above.
“There are several 80-plus-year-olds and one 91-year-old who can work your socks off if ever they were challenged.” Smiling, she added, “They are my inspiration!”