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You Can’t Stop the East Shore Y Active Older Adults (AOA)!

You just can’t stop those Active Older Adults at the East Shore YMCA!

Take Charlie Sunday, for instance.  At 86, our “bionic man” has had both of his hips and one knee replaced and suffered heart problems, yet still exercises regularly both in and out of the water.

Membership in Active Older Adults (AOA) is not restricted to a certain age, though there are many members in their 40’s to 80’s. Whatever the age, the caring and camaraderie of this “Y” community makes life much more enjoyable. From the moment you walk through the door, someone is there to greet you with a smile. Many folks will know your name and ask how you’re doing. (They will even wait to listen to your answer.)  If someone is ill, or going through life difficulties, Y members will band together to provide support.

AOA activities are many, according to Helen Parthemore, Aquatics Director of the East Shore Branch.  There are aquatic and fitness classes, (including yoga and bone density workout) barbeques, luncheons, special events, art and humanities classes, community service opportunities and trips.  For me, and many like me, the popular aquatic programs have been especially life changing.

“Where would I be without the water?” she says, more a statement than a question. Yet, Betty Owings, my deepwater exercise instructor at the East Shore Y, has an answer at the ready: “I have no doubt that I would be in a wheelchair.” To observe the dynamic energy of Betty, at 60 plus years old, one would find her conclusion hard to believe.

Now rewind to 1980. 33-year-old Betty lies flat in a hospital bed after a horrific auto accident. She is stabilized with Crutchfield thongs screwed into her head. Her injuries include four cervical fractures, broken bones in her face and jaw, and multiple broken vertebrae. The doctors were unsure how much lower body function she had left early on.

Betty spent three weeks in the Intensive Care Unit, and was hospitalized for two months. Due to complete inactivity for this time, she had lost all of her leg muscle. With intensive rehabilitation, she relearned how to be upright and slowly built back the muscle to walk again, having to be lifted up to the parallel bars at first. Eventually, she was able to walk three miles a day. She returned to school and got her nursing degree. After seven years in cardiac and ICU nursing, Betty experienced severe pain in her legs. It was caused by necrosis, or cell death, in her leg bones. Her doctor ordered her to quit her job. It only took one week at home with her feet up for Betty to realize “This is not for me.” Her doctor gave her permission to take water exercise classes at the Y, saying “You can’t injure yourself in the water.” The water gave Betty a new lease on life. Once she began teaching her own “Deep Water Power Hour” she also began to give others, like me, the chance to reclaim a more active life, even with physical limitations.

“Go, go, go, go, go!” she coaches us, with her legs and arms churning up the water. “Give it all you’ve got.” Betty knows well that on some days, giving it all you’ve got may not be a lot.  But getting in the water and moving is the difference between an active life in spite of limitations, and, atrophy, both physical and mental.

We stretch, lift, kick, swim, punch and run in the water, moving our bodies in ways we might not achieve on land. That is the healing power of the water at work. Lying on my back, doing independent leg circles, I think about how far I’ve come in the last twelve years because of aquatic exercise.

Severe lower back pain began in my late 30’s, due to degenerative disc disease and arthritis.  By the time I joined Betty’s class, I had also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I felt hindered and depressed by my physical limitations. In the water, it was a different story. I developed improved flexibility and core strength and a brighter mental outlook.

When AOA members are asked about the value of taking water exercise classes at the Y, one phrase emerges again and again: “It’s been a lifesaver.”

Barbara told me that the water exercise has helped her cope with bursitis, and she is able to participate even though she has limited vision.  Elaine, Carol and Joe are some of the many who have used water exercise to rebuild strength and flexibility after surgeries.

Cicely Waeger has participated in deep water exercise classes, as well as other AOA fitness classes for 15 years.  Her health challenges included stroke, severe brain injury, heart conditions and adult respiratory distress syndrome. Today, her lungs are stronger; she is in better physical shape and has “the self-satisfaction that I am doing something good for my body.” The emotional benefits of the friendships and camaraderie at the Y also give her more confidence.

Charlie Sunday’s wife Sig, 82, has diabetes, and has benefited from the shallow water exercise classes, as well as “Sit and Be Fit.” She and Charlie have been members of the YMCA for 47 and 30 years respectively.  Sig was advised by her doctor and dietician to keep exercising to help keep her blood sugar level in control. When she is unable to attend class due to health issues, Charlie reminds her to think about “how much better you will feel when you get back in the water.” During times like those, Sig feels that “the wonderful people at the Y keep you going emotionally.” She remarked about the many cards they’ve received and the kindness of fellow members, as well as the willingness of the Y’s knowledgeable instructors to help. Everyone is grateful to have her back in the pool.

AOA aquatics class members experience a more active life reclaimed or maintained by water exercise. The buoyancy and resistance of the water offer key advantages to other types of exercise.  In the water, there is less impact on the joints than on land. According to Edry and Hoskins (2004) water exercise “is as effective as working out on terra firma but with lower injury risk.”

Enter the pool on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday morning and you will see as many as 30 AOA members exercising in the shallow and deep ends of the pool. There is also music, laughter and singing. (Birthday guys and girls are usually serenaded on their special day.)

Helen Parthemore adds, “The Active Older Adults club at the East Shore YMCA is a great option for adults who want to engage socially with their peers and take advantage of special…fitness programs.”

For those who pay monthly membership fees, the AOA classes are free. Otherwise, an annual program membership fee of $20 is required, along with a modest charge for classes. AOA Club members also receive a free daily parking token when they participate in AOA classes or special events.

The acronym YMCA may begin with the word “Young,” but the East Shore’s AOA Club is a testament to its mission to develop healthy li

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