BRADENTON --Until just a year ago, Leone Cranson was a ballroom dancer. She had to stop when the arthritis in her hip made dancing too painful.
She is 94 and hopes that someday she'll be able todance again. Until then,Cranson has found another form of exercise that she loves.
Cranson's physical therapist recommended shetry aqua exercise. Several times a week, she's now at the Aquatic Center at New Medicine Community, a health and wellness company at Health Park East, 6020 53rd Ave. E.
The indoor pool at the Aquatic Center is kept at a comfortable 88 degrees and warm water bubbles up from the vents. It is only 3- 1/2- to 4-feet deep and made for therapy.
Cranson takes the after-noon classes for arthritis. The exercise sessions are modeled on the Arthritis Foundation Aquatic Program and taught by certified instructors.
"You go in there feeling stiff and come out feeling relaxed," said Cranson.
Arthritis can make even simple movements like turning a doorknob painful and at times almost impossible. But the worst thing to do, according to arthritis experts, is to give in and stop moving.
"When you have arthritis you get stiff. If it's in your shoulder, you can't raise your arms over your head. If it's in your hand, you can't use a pencil," said Kathy Elias, an aqua exercise instructor for New Medicine Community.
"You tend not to move and that compounds your problem," said Elias.
Exercise is recommended for arthritis because it helps improve strength and range of motion, she said.
Aqua exercise is especially gentle on joints because the water's buoyancy is so supportive.
Raising the arms, moving the hips or bending the knee isn't as hard. As flexibility improves, stretching just a little farther isn't as painful.
It helps when the water is warm instead of cool. The average pool is kept at least five degrees cooler than the pool at Health Park East. Those five degrees make a big difference, said Elias.
"When the water is warm you don't feel you have to move faster," said Elias, and warm water helps stiff joints relax instead of becoming tense.
For arthritis, aqua exercise is slow and gentle. The classes don't use propssuch as noodles and foam barbells because gripping them would put pressure on joints.
"Just walking around in the water is very good. It's better than staying home and not doing anything," said Brenda Loop, who has rheumatoid arthritis and is at the Aqua Center three times a week.
Loop began taking classes in January and has noticed she now has more feeling in her feet and can get around a lot better. In the 20 years since she developed rheumatoid arthritis, one of her challenges has been falling and not being able to get up.
Twin perils of arthritis are inflexibility and weakness. As they progress, there is more risk of not being able to get up from the floor without assistance.
In a typical aqua exercise class, major joints and muscles groups are targetedfrom head to toe. Everyday movements can be part ofthe routine, like openingand closing an imaginary door with a big sweep of the arms or lobbing a make-believe tennis ball high over a net.
Elias had a woman in her class who wanted to keep playing golf. If she got too stiff, her days on the golf course would be over. In the water, they practiced an imaginary golf swing that loosened shoulder joints.
In 45 minutes, the exercise classes target every major muscle group. Hinge joints such as the ankles and wrists get attention and so do the large joints like hips and shoulders.
One problem for people with arthritis can be chronic poor posture, said Elias. Tensing the shoulders and collapsing the chest can make breathing and even swallowing more difficult.
Gentle exercises like shoulder shrugs and squeezing the shoulder blades together can help.
The arthritis classes are offered three times a week. There is a core group of 10 to 15 students who wouldn't miss a session.
"They know that they won't be able to function if they stopped," said Elias.
For Cranson, the feeling of relaxation after an aqua exercise class lasts through part of the next day.
"This is doing me a lot of good," she said.
For information, visit www.newmedicinecommunity.com or call 941-761-9816.
Susan Hemmingway, Herald health correspondent, can be reached at email@example.com.