Steps are available to help manage arthritis

Soccer, baseball, lacrosse fields, tennis courts, golf courses and track venues are all abuzz with activities. May brings the sights and sounds of spring: flowers blossoming and lawn mowers rumbling.

May is also National Arthritis Awareness Month sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation. One in five adults and more than 300,000 children suffer from the pains of arthritis or one of the more than 100 types of rheumatic conditions that fall under the arthritis umbrella.

Arthritis by definition is inflammation of the joints. Sufferers of arthritis range from occasional discomfort to those who live with constant pain.

Sarah Cima, ACE-FI and the Aquatic Group Exercise Lead for the Rochester Athletic Club, is a certified group fitness instructor through the American Council on Exercise.

She said arthritis is a disease with no known cure. "Those that suffer from arthritis learn to manage their symptoms through various means,'' she said. "One of the best ways to manage arthritis is incorporating physical activity into your daily routine. This may sound ironic, but it really does help. The key is to find the appropriate physical activity."


The RAC has always offered arthritis focused group physical activity classes. The most popular and effective class is the Arthritis Foundation Aquatic Program or AFAP. AFAP incorporates all the essential elements of a land-based program but does it in the confines a warm water pool.

A warm water pool for therapy based programs is considered to have a water temperature of between 85 and 92 degrees. The RAC indoor pool registers 88 degrees.

The beauty of water-based physical activity is that the impact is greatly reduced due the buoyancy of the body in water. This results in less stress on the joints; that’s a good thing for the body, especially those with arthritis.

Cima and her instructors have all gone through AFAP training and certification. "All the instructors are well-versed in the health issues and limitations of those with arthritis,'' she said. "We can help advise the participants how to adapt the physical activity in a class to conform to their respective discomfort levels. We understand the disease and we are here to help them stay active."

Cima is attempting to reach out to those who suffer with arthritis., "All too often when an individual is diagnosed with arthritis, they feel their physical activity portion of their lives is over,'  'she said. "That couldn’t be farther from the truth. They have the risk of falling into an insidious cycle of pain the leads to less movement that leads to isolation that leads to depressions, weight gain and potentially other detrimental health issues.

"I want to let those in Rochester know that we have a program that will help them."

The AFAP components are flexibility, strength and cardiovascular training. All of this is accomplished in the comfort of the warm water pool.

The class starts out with gentle stretching from upper body to lower body. The strength component is done by moving the limbs under water while at times using an accessory to create drag in the water, thus creating a resistance through the motion.


The cardiovascular component is then done doing motions over an extended period of time.

All of this is under the direct supervision of an AFAP certified instructor. Beginning participants are encouraged to work within their comfort zone.

"The objective of the class is to get this population moving again, '' Cima said. "We also really want to provide a warm and inviting environment. Both men and women of all ages are welcome to join the class."

Cima said that with AFAP and all group physical activity "quickly becomes a very social and supportive group. It’s also a great place . . . to share stories and strategies on how each copes with their respective situations."

The RAC is making these classes available to non-RAC members as well. If you suffer from some form of arthritis or know of someone that suffers from arthritis, contact the RAC for more information on AFAP classes.

Call Jane Hein, group exercise director at (507) 287-9318.

Take control and take a big step in managing your arthritis.

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