Seniors, arthritis sufferers, people with chronic conditions and those recovering from orthopedic surgery or injuries often consider water exercise a blessing.
With the reduced weight on joints and the reduced risk of falls, virtually everybody can exercise in the water to increase their strength and flexibility, says Holly Howard, who teaches aquarobics and arthritis exercise classes in the Mittleman Jewish Community Center’s two pools.
Using water for therapy and rehabilitation predates recorded history and has been practiced by almost every known civilization, according to Doug Kinnaird, LMT, a therapist who works with clients at the center’s therapy pool. Kinnaird started providing aquatic therapy at the MJCC in 1997. He was away from Portland from 2007-2010, but is now back helping clients at the center.
“The essential properties of water – density, buoyancy, viscosity and specific heat – act on essentially every homeostatic system of the body, reducing edema, enhancing circulation, measurably reducing weight-bearing stress and relieving pain,” according to Kinnaird, who has written chapters on aquatic therapy for three textbooks.
Howard says participants in her aquarobics classes in the main pool range from a young pregnant woman to 91-year-old Dorothy Packouz.
Packouz said she did aerobics “on land” until three or four years ago, but when she started getting a sore back she found exercising in the water was “easier.”
“I’ve always been active,” she says, adding with a smile, “I’m trying to keep me old.”
Students in the arthritis exercise class, which is certified by the Arthritis Foundation, range from a 40-year-old with rheumatoid arthritis to seniors suffering from arthritis or recovering from joint replacements. Howard said the warm water in the therapy pool eases pain and enhances flexibility.
Doug Walters, 72, says he not only lost 60 pounds in the year and a half he’s been coming to the arthritis class, but also, “my flexibility and balance have really improved. … You can do a lot of exercise for your muscles without gravity.”
The JCC’s hydrotherapy program began in the center’s former location in downtown Portland in 1924 and continues in the MJCC’s Therapy Pool, where the water temperature is maintained at 94 degrees.
The warm water and hydrostatic pressure reduce pain, Kinnaird notes, adding, “For the heart, just standing in water is aerobic exercise … and it takes 60 percent more effort to breathe one liter of air than on land, so it improves respiratory capacity.”
“Turbulence, caused by moving water around the body, or by moving the body through water, provides further therapeutic benefits: thermal conductivity is enhanced; drag forces challenge movement and balance to strengthen muscles and improve proprioception; viscosity helps prevent the risk of falling; resistance to movement can be balanced between agonists and antagonists; painful movements can be stopped instantly to prevent damage; and combined with hydrostatic pressure, turbulence acts to further reduce pain.”
Cedar Sinai Park brings a busload of Rose Schnitzer Manor residents to participate in aquatics classes several times a week.
“Water or aquatic therapy has long been known to have positive results. It can increase metabolism, improve cardiovascular health, increase strength, and slow down age-related loss of muscle mass,” says Kathy Tipsord, CSP community program director. “From a social standpoint, it keeps people engaged and more independent, thus feeling better about themselves.”
Tipsord notes that many residents in their 90s regularly attend the program at the MJCC.
“While originally aquatic therapy focused on cardio benefits, it now also is known for increasing strength, agility, and flexibility,” she notes. “How does that translate for anyone as they age? It can mean the difference between getting dressed with or without assistance, walking to and from your apartment, or even carrying your purchases from the local grocery store.”
Tipsord said the warm water therapy pool class is a nice complement to the exercise program, lectures and art programs at the Manor.
Tipsord says one resident told her, “I know it’s good for me, but it also feels good to see my friends and just feel the warmth of the water around me.”
Sydney Herbert, 84, says water exercise is the only workout she can manage. She not only enjoys the workout, but she also enjoys the social aspects of the program.
And after two years of feeling the benefits herself, Herbert didn’t hesitate to seek out hydrotherapy for her dog when she was diagnosed with arthritis.
“She’s a loyal, loving dog and it helps keep her alive,” says Herbert, noting she knows of three pools in the Portland area that cater to dogs. However, she says, her dog prefers running on an underwater treadmill to swimming.