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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • February 2018
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Breaking down exercise barriers

Whether you have heard it from your doctor, from a friend or family member, or saw a late night infomercial, we all know that regular exercise is good for us. It can improve mood, lower blood pressure, ensure a good night’s sleep, help manage weight and a host of other benefits. However, for those diagnosed with a medical condition, starting or maintaining a regular exercise program may seem out of reach.

Medical conditions like stroke, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis can make people feel as if they are sidelined from exercise. There may be a tendency to fatigue quickly, feel weak and unsteady or even be anxious about exercise due to fears of falling or suffering a setback, so consulting your doctor before starting to exercise is important. But perhaps the question to ask isn’t if you should exercise, but rather how you should exercise.

It’s amazing to see how warm water coupled with determination and a positive attitude can break down so many of the barriers that limit a successful exercise program. Warm water exercise can open the door for many who feel isolated due to a medical condition and its imposed limitations and offers several benefits.

Stretching is easier

Daily stretching is beneficial for everyone; however, it’s of vital importance to those with a medical condition. Only when your body is adequately stretched can you begin to successfully work on gaining strength. Stretching helps manage spasticity, tone and loss of range of motion (ROM) and warm water enables you to increase the elasticity of tight muscles, utilizing rhythmical active ROM exercises. These stretches are performed by moving through water in a slow, fluent and relaxed manner, which alleviates pain and tightness in targeted muscle areas of the arms, legs and torso.

The warm water alternative

Traditional land-based exercise programs can prove to be a challenge for many. Warm water provides an alternative environment to advance further in a strengthening program. Exercising in water reduces your body weight up to 90 percent. By alleviating gravity, those with poor muscle control and limited endurance can increase the number of repetitions or length of time each exercise is performed.

Water also provides a supportive cushion around an individual that allows them to focus on core strengthening, standing/balance and gait training exercises without the fear of falling. Barbells and hand/ankle weights may be added to achieve the desired level of resistance to maximize progress. I believe if we can successfully educate people about proper body mechanics and safe ways to exercise in water, it will carry over to their everyday lives, and their ability to perform tasks at home with more ease and self-confidence.

Brain training

Whether our bodies are slowing down due to age or a medical condition, warm water therapy is an extremely effective avenue to retrain the brain. Many neurologic disorders cause brain impulses to stop firing correctly and therefore do not communicate with the body as they once did. If “rewiring” of the neural pathways can be facilitated, then you can regain movement.

Unpredictable Movement Command is a technique used in water to target the use of multiple brain areas simultaneously. It consists of movement patterns being performed with quickly changing or random combinations (e.g. small-big, start-stop and directional changes). This fosters the brain’s ability to multitask, improve somatic awareness (feel where body is in space), self-righting reactions (needed to prevent falls) and overall coordination.

What to consider before diving in

The ultimate goal is to keep moving. Check into one-on-one aquatic therapy and specialty classes offered at warm water facilities in your area, and don’t forget to plan ahead for your mobility needs. You may want to inquire about accessible parking, entrances and locker rooms. Bringing a family member, friend or attendant on your first visit will help ensure that you have positive experience.

Once in water, you will see firsthand how it gives those with mobility impairments due to a medical condition a sense of self-empowerment, a reason to smile and the courage to keep pushing past preconceived exercise barriers, to live again with confidence and a new twinkle in their eye! 

Bonnie Murry

Bonnie Murray is a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, certified in Adaptive Aquatics Interventions with multi-disabilities. She’s been at the Aquatic Center at CP since 2012 and works with patrons with neuromuscular disorders, post-trauma rehabilitation needs, pain management and personal fitness goals.

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