Making a Splash
Seniors tackle arthritis in swimming pools

By Curt Yeomans


Riverdale resident Calvin Metz crossed his legs next to the pool at the Frank Bailey Senior Center, and smiled as he talked about how he has regained flexibility through participating in an Arthritis Aquatics class at the center.

Metz, 74, is one of 14 people in the class, held for 45 minutes a day, three days a week. He shows up 15 minutes before his classmates, so he can get some extra stretching done.

Metz began taking the class with instructor Terri Adams, the senior center's health and fitness director, five years ago because his doctor urged him to get more exercise to help ease the pain of his arthritis.

"When I first started taking this class, I couldn't cross my legs like I can now," Metz said. "It [stretching in the pool] makes my movement better. When I go back to the doctor, he's so impressed."

"The biggest advantage in the pool is it just occupies my mind," he said. "It almost takes you back to your younger days when you could move all of your body parts outside the pool."

The Frank Bailey and Charley Griswell senior centers offer the Arthritis Aquatics and Beginning Swim courses for local seniors, but each center also has unique aquatics courses designed to help their members improve balance and tone, and build muscle.

The Frank Bailey Senior Center has the H2O Works and Aqua Fit classes, while the Charley Griswell Senior Center offers Liquid Abs, Aqua Yoga, Aqua Boot Camp and Aqua Sculpting courses.

Adams, the health and fitness director at the Frank Bailey center, said the water helps seniors exercise and loosen joints because of the body's buoyancy. But the water works in two ways, she said.

Adams said the buoyancy makes it easier for the Arthritis Aquatics students to move their legs because they will feel lighter. She said it also provides resistance when students in the toning and exercise classes try to push their foam dumbbells into the water.

"It decreases the pain and stiffness they feel in their joints, and it also improves their balance and coordination," Adams said. Seniors need a note from their doctor saying it is OK for them to participate in the aquatics courses at the senior centers before they can sign up for the classes, Adams said.

Riverdale resident Loretta Faison, 60, said she has been taking water-exercise classes for 15 years at various locations around the county because of arthritis. She said she has had "all of the 'arthurs,' and all of the 'itises,' you can have," such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. "But in the water, you don't know it," she said.

Faison said she began taking the Arthritis Aquatics and Land Arthritis classes at the Frank Bailey Senior Center 12 weeks ago.

"I look forward to this [the aquatics] class because I know that when I get out of the water, I'm going to feel better," Faison said. The land class is "hard for me because I'm sitting in a chair, and my legs are heavier," she said.

Jonesboro resident Beverly Morris, 68, said, "I just feel better [in a pool] because I don't feel as sluggish." She takes the H2O Works course at the Frank Bailey Senior Center, and said she has osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.

Instructor Adams said the Arthritis Foundation recommends the heating of pool water to a range of 83 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, because it helps loosen arthritis sufferers' joints.

"If it's too cold, it's really hard for them to do the exercises," Adams said. "We keep the temperature somewhere between 86 and 87 degrees, and they [the seniors] can tell if it's even one degree below that."

Not everyone is taking aquatics classes solely to deal with arthritis.

Riverdale resident Gloria Morris, 65, said she began taking aquatics classes because she has rheumatoid arthritis, but she also "knew I needed exercise and this helps ... It's less strenuous than floor exercises, and my doctor recommended it. I like doing the mountain climbing in the water ... anything that's strenuous because I know I'm working off some of the pounds."

Another Riverdale resident, Lois Davis, 68, said she has arthritis as well, but her main reason for taking the class was to get some exercise. "I like working with the buoys because I have to go against the force of the water, and that builds arm muscles," Davis said. "It's like I'm using a 10-pound weight."