Staying Active with Aqua Exercise
For years after much 1987 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, I dreamed of going for a jog. I had been an avid runner, but my lack of strength, leg coordination and balance made jogging a distant memory. Instead, I took short strolls with my cane and later, a walker.
Then, in 1998, I discovered a new way to indulge my love of running: deep-water jogging. Like many people with MS, I experience increased mobility in cool water (26-29°C). Robyn David, head physiotherapist at the MS Society of Canada’s Capital Region Chapter in Victoria, B.C., explains that water helps to dissipate the heat produced by the body during exercise and prevents the overheating that causes MS fatigue and exacerbates symptoms.
Also, because the body is composed mostly of water, it is buoyant, which means less energy is needed to move freely. Physiotherapy is often done in a pool. Aqua exercises, including jogging, aerobics, stretching and lap swimming, are non-weight-bearing activities in the water.
“Exercising in water enables people to move in ways that they are not able to on land,” says David, who has many clients with various disabilities who are unable to stand or walk, but are able to do so in chest-deep water. “Water supports people with balance issues, decreasing the risk and fear of falling and encouraging freedom of moment.”
In addition to greater freedom of movement, aqua exercise offers great health benefits. “Aqua exercises are a total-body workout,” explains Rob Wilson, a kinesiologist at Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre in Victoria, B.C.
Deep-water jogging, aerobics and lap swimming are all terrific cardiovascular activities. Water also provides resistance for muscle conditioning and building core strength. Endorphins released during exercise provide a natural high, elevating the mood.
Naturally, I was thrilled when my physiotherapist, Penny Salmas of Shelbourne Physiotherapy Clinic in Victoria, confirmed that deep-water jogging is the right therapy for me. A flotation belt around my waist enables me to jog in the deep end of the pool and concentrate on the movement of my body.
Gina Tremblay, senior aquatic instructor at Juan de Fuca Recreational Centre, taught me proper jogging technique. She instructed me to move my arms and legs to simulate a jogging motion so that I catch the water and push it back to propel myself forward. I keep my ears, shoulders and hips in a straight line. My posture is erect, I raise my knees no higher than my navel, and my abdominal muscles are tight.
During the first few laps of deepwater jogging, my left leg isn’t active. Eventually, the left knee bends like the right one, and I feel like I’m really jogging, which gives me great satisfaction.
I deep-water jog twice a week. The length of time I spend in the water depends on what my overactive bladder (caused by MS) will give me. I focus on the exercise itself; I don’t count the laps. If I attempt to jog fast, I lose coordination, so I go slow and steady, a good pace for all aqua exercises.
“It is vital to set realistic and attainable goals,” says Salmas. “When designing an aqua-exercise program, strength, endurance, flexibility, postural awareness and inner core strength must all be considered.”
A clinical exercise specialist, recreation therapist, physiotherapist or kinesiologist can do an assessment and, in consultation with an aquatic instructor, design a program to meet your needs or direct you to a specific program. You should also consult your physician before beginning any new exercise. If any aqua exercise feels uncomfortable, stop and consult an expert.
Tremblay uses flotation belts or foam pool noodles to help her clients find their centre of buoyancy. A balanced position enables the participant to concentrate on exercise technique. Belts and noodles also lessen the impact on the body if it comes in contact with the floor of the pool.
If lap swimming is recommended, Tremblay, says, “A swimming instructor can suggest a suitable stroke for your ability level.” If you cannot use your legs, a flotation device called a pull-boy can help them float as you move your upper body.
Before you start your workout, it’s important to warm up. Salmas stresses that people with MS and other neurological conditions with hypertonic (spastic) muscles should do warm-up exercises gently and rhythmically to avoid muscle spasms. The resistance of the water can be used as a tool to facilitate these exercises.
Deep-water jogging has increased my stamina, enabling me to stand longer and walk further with the use of my walker. I have more energy and sleep solidly, and I feel less stress. Aqua exercise is gentle, and it’s fun! I love the feeling of freedom I have in the water, and I look forward to every workout.
Nancy Chamberlayne lives in Victoria, B.C.
A version of this article was published in the National MS Society’s 2006 August/ September edition of Inside MS.
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