Food & Fitness After 50: A Deep Dive into Water Aerobics

If you are looking for a non-impact activity that provides all the components of fitness…cardiovascular, muscle strength and endurance, and flexibility, then water aerobics might be for you. And, bonus points for the cooling water in the pool as a great antidote to summer heat and humidity.

Water Aerobics is not Playing, but it is Fun

Sue Ellen
Suellen leading water aerobics

If you think that those folks in the pool are just playing, think again. “Water aerobics is a full body workout,” says Suellen, who at age 73 teaches classes throughout the summer, sometimes as many as five classes a week. Suellen has been an avid exerciser since the early 1980s when she and her friends donned leotards and did Jazzercise until she found water aerobics. “I’ve had lower back problems since I was a teen and the jarring impact of land-based exercise could make my back issues worse and put me out of commission for over a week,” says Suellen. So, she switched to water-based exercise and liked it so much she became a certified water aerobics instructor. “I never planned to be an instructor, but another instructor encouraged me and a friend to take the YMCA-based training and the rest is history.” The certification “wasn’t easy, but I learned CPR, water fitness, and both classroom and in-the-pool exams made me a competent instructor with more confidence,” says Suellen.

The benefits of water aerobics are many:

  • It promotes gains in muscle strength.“The resistance of the water makes an ideal environment to build muscle and there are many ways to change moves to make them more challenging as strength builds,” notes Suellen.
  • It is beneficial in treating osteoarthritis of knee and hip joints. Many people associate water aerobics with exercise for people with arthritis and for good reason. Your body weight is reduced by about 90% from the buoyancy of the water thereby reducing stress on weight-bearing joints. 
  • It is a welcoming environment for those who have been sedentary, who are overweight, or who have chronic disease. “We have all levels of fitness in a typical water aerobics class from those who are very fit to those who have chronic conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, who find exercise difficult. Suellen always tells her students, to keep three things in mind during any class when they find movement difficult…slow it down, make smaller moves, and substitute an easier move.”
  • Many people choose water aerobics when rehabbing from an injury or surgery. Cathy, a regular in Suellen’s class, told me she was “looking for an exercise class that she could do after she finished physical therapy for knee replacement surgery. I found water aerobics to be of great benefit in strengthening my knee and I think it helped me get back to land-based aerobics more quickly, but I still do water aerobics because I love it!”

ThinkstockPhotos-480904565Suellen says that water aerobics follows the same format as other hour-long aerobics classes, “we start with a warm up of stretching exercises, and then spend most of the time on cardio, followed by a cool down. We use Styrofoam buoys for resistance exercise, and just like weights you use in the gym, these come in different “weights,” so we can increase resistance.”

Can Water Based Exercise Improve Bone Health

Water aerobics can help with bone health but is not as good as land-based exercise to strengthen bone, something Suellen found out when her doctor told her bone density was low. Suellen is working with a personal trainer who is knowledgeable about working with older adults with health issues. (I know this first hand, as I also worked with David when I had hip problems, for more on the benefits of working with a personal trainer, click here.)

Always a Teacher

Water aerobics
Class at YMCA, photo credit Bill Powell

Suellen taught 7th grade math for 29 years before she retired, but she sneaks some math lessons into her water aerobics classes now and then. “I’ll ask them to identify north, east, west, and south while we are in the pool and them ask them how that relates to the numbers on a compass, I guess once a math teacher, always a math teacher!” She loves the reactions she gets from the people who come to her class, “we have several people in their eighties who are regulars and they enjoy the exercise, but they really like the social aspects and the fun of the class.”

Tips for Optimal Aging

When I asked Suellen to identify the top three ways to optimal aging, not surprisingly, her first response was “move, move, move!” “My dad played golf at the age of 94 and moving is what keeps us all going.”

The second tip is to stay socially connected. It could be through an exercise class, volunteer activities, church groups, or as Suellen puts it, “anything that gets people going, gets them up, gets them dressed, and gets them out of the house so they develop a social connection to the place and to the people.” She works at getting to know the people in her class and “making them feel more comfortable about participating and looking forward to coming back is what matters.”

And, lastly, she said, “laughter, having fun and laughing during exercise is so rewarding, we laugh with each other and they laugh at me when I mess up, and that’s OK because it keeps us all laughing, having fun, and moving!”

For more information on eating well, moving well, and being well check out Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Get Old and Get Better

“Just Do It may be Nike’s slogan, but it rules Kathy’s life.”

Too many people hit their sixties and say “it’s too late for me to:”

  • lose weight
  • change my eating habits
  • get fit

Kathy medalsBut, not Kathy, at age 65 she is stronger, fitter, and healthier than she has ever been. And, after she discovered Pickleball about 3 years ago, she has ramped up her fitness and dropped even more weight. She has the bling to prove her love of Pickleball; this woman has more hardware than a Home Depot!

 

A Slow and Steady Journey

Kathy’s journey to health and fitness wasn’t an easy one. She grew up on a dairy farm in rural Georgia and maintained a healthy weight throughout high school. Many young women gain some weight when they go off to college, referred to as the “Freshman Fifteen.” Kathy says, “I didn’t stop at fifteen pounds, not with late night pizza and beer, I kept on going.” She left college about 25 pounds heavier than when she started.

Right out of college she took a job with parks and recreation for a Georgia county that included St. Simon’s Island. “We worked hard and worked odd hours, so we were always eating on the run and mostly unhealthy foods.” Today, seafood is often prepared grilled but back in the day, it was all fried. “Fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried fish, and of course it came with fries” says Kathy. By the time she was approaching her 50th birthday her weight had ballooned to 255 pounds.

A turning point came when Weight Watcher’s at Work was initiated in the county. “All my buddies, like the police and fire chiefs said they would participate so I thought, why not join them?” For two years, every Friday, they weighed in and Kathy was determined that she would not see the number on the scale go up, so she stuck to the plan and lost 50 pounds. The county dropped the program, but Kathy joined a weekly Weight Watcher’s group and never missed a meeting. “I needed the accountability of weekly meetings and I eventually reached my goal of losing a total of 75 pounds.”

Excess Weight Takes a Toll on Joint Health

The years of carrying excess weight took a toll on her knees. It is well known that carrying extra body weight increases the impact of normal wear and tear of joints associated with aging. Added to that, extra body weight is associated with chronic inflammation that can also damage joints. When Kathy retired she couldn’t walk around the block without pain and the weight started to creep up. Her doctor recommended knee replacement and suggested dropping the weight she had regained to ease her recovery. So, she started back on the healthy eating pattern she learned at WW and in early in 2014 she had the first knee replaced. Her friends gave her a unique recovery present: a six-month membership at the local YMCA.

If it Doesn’t’ Kill You…..

Kathy loves to dance so she took her first Zumba class and after 10 minutes she thought she was going to die. “I looked around the exercise room to scout out exit doors to know how the paramedics would get in to resuscitate me when I had a heart attack! I said a prayer and asked God to not let me die and if I lived, I promised not to ever come back to Zumba!” But, of course, she survived and lived to dance another day, returning to Zumba three days a week. She worked with a trainer to rehab her knee and prepped for the other knee to be replaced. “The Y helped me so much and I don’t know if I would be where I am today without it.”

Pickleball Competitor

Dempsey and me
Kathy, on the right, in tournament mode

In the fall of 2016 the retired high school athletic director and football coach wanted to introduce a few people to Pickleball. He thought many of his friends would love the sport, especially those who had been avid tennis players. Kathy never played tennis so she decided to just go watch and thought, “I can do this, knee replacement doesn’t’ stop you for doing anything. You might have to make some modifications, but it should give you back your life, not stop it.”

Kathy Greenville tourament
Kathy and her tournament partner collecting their medals

Three years later, she plays five days a week for 2 to 3 hours a day. On Saturday she practices and in March of 2018 she participated in her first competition. Pickleball has rekindled that competitive spirit she showed when losing weight, “I don’t play for fun, I want to make the podium!” There are other reasons she loves the sport, “pickleball is very active, both physically and mentally. There is no time to think about anything else when playing unless you want to be smacked with the ball by person on the other side of the net.” She also enjoys the social aspect, saying “my circle of friends has greatly increased in my hometown and I enjoy getting to know peeps from other cities and states from playing in tournaments. I have met some great people playing in tournaments as partners and as opponents and that really adds to the enjoyment of tournament season. I have played with unknown partners from Georgia, Florida and South Carolina and now we all try to meet up when playing around the south.”

Tips for Optimal Aging

Today, Kathy and her partner own an art gallery where they can pursue their love of painting, acrylics work, and other creative ventures. “Before we left St. Simon’s Island we did a lot of craft shows and while we enjoyed it, it gets old hauling your work, setting up and tearing down for every show. We always joked we wish we could hang it up and so when we bought our gallery we named it “Hang It Up Gallery.”

Kathy’s tips for optimal aging? Just do it! “Watch what you eat, monitor your weight….(I’m a ‘scaleaholic’), stay active, and have friends. From where I was at age 55 to where I am at age 65 is just amazing; I’m in the best shape of my life and I plan to keep getting better.”

For more information on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available on Amazon and other booksellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

Food & Fitness After 50: Meet Jean, the Dancing Queen

“I won’t be old till my feet hurt, and they only hurt when I don’t let ‘em dance enough, so I’ll keep right on dancing.”

Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson,  U.S. Dancer

Three days a week, I muddle through a dance aerobics class at the YMCA, along with about 20 other women. While I have two left feet, Jean, our instructor, is a dancing queen. Jean, age 69, loves “music, dance, and movement,” and that is what drew her to dance aerobics over 40 years ago. In school she took every PE class she could fit into her schedule, but when she discovered dance aerobics, she knew she had found her favorite exercise.

Jean class 1
Jean, center, with dancing disciples

 

Girls weren’t always encouraged to be active

Jean grew up in rural Georgia and loved hanging out with her two brothers. She described herself as “tom-boy,” and everyday after school the trio would be outside “running, jumping, and climbing trees until mom honked the car horn to call us in for supper.” She realizes she was active in an era when girls weren’t. In high school she played basketball and was a cheerleader and in college she played intramural basketball. Over the years, she enjoyed all kinds of activity, from running (and completing the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC) to golf to cycling. She completed the Bicycle Race Across Georgia ten times! Jean and her husband, a high school and college football player, have passed their love of exercise to their children.

Her first stint at college got interrupted by motherhood, but she eventually went back to school to earn a social work degree. Between work, school, and family, Jean taught dance aerobics in small towns in northeast Georgia and South Carolina. At the time, there weren’t many fitness facilities, so she got resourceful and used elementary school gyms or church facilities…any space that would allow her to gather with a group of dedicated dance devotees. “There were times when it was so hot in the un-air-conditioned schools or churches that we moved class outside to the parking lot. It was still sweltering hot in the Georgia summer, but at least here was a breeze!”

Dance Aerobics finds a permanent home

For the past 10 years, she has found a home in the local YMCA, teaching at 8 AM three mornings each week. She changes up the hour-long routine about every 8-10 weeks to keep in interesting for the attendees, and for herself. “Exercise is serious business, but it has to be fun,” and we do have fun. Jean transfers her joy to her fellow dancers every day, but even more so on Halloween. She surprises us with her own special look as we dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.Jean halloween

Jean says it is more challenging to stay active as she ages, but says “you have to make the effort, because some days it is easier to want to do nothing. But, we all have to take responsibility for our health and fitness and find something we love to do and look forward to doing it.” For Jean, that something is dance.

Being well

Jean also stays well by playing games, reading, and working crossword puzzles to keep her brain sharp and says maintaining relationships with her friends and family keeps her aging well. And, of course, she moves everyday for the physical and mental benefits. “Movement makes me feel happy and I hope that everyone finds an activity that makes them move and be well.”

Learn more about eating well, moving well, and being well in Food & Fitness After 50 available at Amazon.