by Gretchen Peterson
I have had fibromyalgia pain for 35 years. Like most people with pain, I thought it best to baby my body and “take it easy” so the pain would not increase. Fortunately, I was with a physician that sent me to physical therapy so that I could learn the recommended exercises to keep my joints working properly. Because I was teaching full time, and raising a family, I rarely had the time or energy to exercise. That all changed when I was forced to retire, because my body could no longer take the stress and strain of teaching physically impaired children. It was soon after that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That diagnosis changed my life in so many ways……..most of them positive!
During my treatment, I was walking a mile a day, but as the treatment continued, I was no longer able to walk as far, and certainly not as fast, the fatigue became intense. I hated what cancer was taking away from me. In order to gain some control of my life and become powerful enough to fight the disease, I continued to walk every day. Each day I tried to go just a bit farther, and slowly, but surely, I was increasing my distance. I started to feel powerful and that I was winning in the battle for my life. Every step I took I said the word “survivor” to remind me that I would conquer this disease. For the first time in my life, I made decisions that were about what I needed. I finally put myself first, and exercise was the key. I began taking water aerobic lessons at the local junior college.
I am a strong proponent of water aerobics. It provides low impact activities in moderately warm water. Instead of “pumping iron” you pump water. It provides wonderful resistance without stressing the joints. The buoyancy of the water reduces the stress of carrying your weight, which makes it a perfect exercise for seniors with arthritis, or back pain, pregnant women, people with fibromyalgia, and those recovering from injury or surgery. You do not need to be able to swim because you are generally in the shallow end of the pool with water chest high. For advance swimmers there are also deep water exercise classes.
The health benefits are many. Water aerobics provides strength and toning because moving water requires 12-14 times more muscle resistance. It is easier to move in water, so flexibility and range of motion are improved. A typical workout session is 40-60 minutes which increases heart rate and is beneficial for the cardiovascular system. Endurance is improved without the body overheating, and you are less likely to get tired or feel sore afterwards. For those that hate to sweat, the water keeps the body cool.
Lastly, and most importantly, walking and water aerobics has helped me take charge of my health and my body. When facing a crisis, I have used my exercise to feel in control, and find that it makes me feel powerful even when I have no power over my circumstances. It is a good way to relieve stress, have quiet reflection, and can be used to help relieve anger. I now always make sure I exercise daily, early in the day, so nothing interferes with the quality time I give myself and my body. Don’t have an hour to invest in yourself? Start small. Everyone has 10 minutes….use it to walk. Walk several times a day for even a short time. There are wonderful programs on DVD to help exercise at home. Leslie Sansone has walking programs available. There are programs for people disabled and need chair exercises. You can find short demonstrations available on you tube.com.
About the Author: Gretchen Peterson taught special education for twenty-eight years in a large suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Her specialties were orthopedically and multiply impaired youth. She is an 11 year breast cancer survivor, and continues to mentor other women with cancer. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1988, and despite osteoarthritis in her neck, back, feet, and hips leads an active life that includes international travel, yoga, water aerobics, and Tai Chi. She walks 1-1/2 miles daily, and currently lives in Florida.