Wagon Train Part 2: Let’s Get Physical

In an ironic twist, I have fallen off the wagon-circling wagon.  There are reasons for this, which I may get into in another post.  But for now, I’d like to jump back on and talk a little about my next set of wagons – physical activity.

Exercise is a seriously tricky proposition for a lot of people with RA.  On the one hand, we know that it’s a really important part of maintaining joint health – sometimes it very literally is “move it or lose it.”  On the other hand, when the joints are in flare or already damaged, things can get dangerous.  Another annoying thing about RA is its changeability – the line between just enough activity and too much is razor-thin and seems to move around all the time,  making it hard to stay consistent.  At least it sure works that way for me, and for a lot of other RA folks I know.  So I have to admit that after going SPLAT a few too many times from overdoing, I have erred on the side of doing… well, nothing. 

(Sheepish grin)

I was going to write a somewhat lengthy post that covered all of these different thoughts I’ve had about exercise over the years, but I’m really tired today and so I will get right to the point, which is my plan to change this.  I’m realizing that as time goes by, I’m getting weaker and have less and less energy, and that I’m beginning to have new muscle problems in addition to my usual joint problems.  While I do realize that my illness has a lot to do with this, I want to be proactive about the parts I might be able to influence.  I also want to model something better for my boy than a sedentary lifestyle.  So here are the wagons I plan to start circling:

Wagon #1: Water exercise

Esther WIlliams

(Okay, so I may never be Esther Williams, but I think the picture is cute!)

A long time ago, my rheumatologist said that swimming would be good for my joints.  Problem – my “swimming” is really more like “trying-not-to-drown.”  So then he suggested low-impact water exercise – for example, the Arthritis Foundation Aquatics Program (AFAP), which offers gentle range-of-motion exercises for people with all different forms of arthritis.  I learned that it was offered at several different local YMCA’s, as well as a few other places.  Around the same time, my husband and I thought that it would be a good idea for our son to take baby swimming lessons.  One of our friends had taken her son to the Y, so we checked it out.  And then, in one of those beautiful events of synchronicity that makes you think things are meant to be, we saw it:

AFAP class and Infant Swim, Saturday mornings, same time, same pool.

So off we went on Saturday mornings for a little family exercise.  At first I felt a bit ridiculous, since I was by far the youngest person in my AFAP class.  It was a little awkward explaining to people why I was there, since most of them were osteoarthritis patients.  But it didn’t take long to get comfortable, and I really enjoyed the sensation of being in the water, which is kept at a soothing 90 degrees.  And it was so sweet to look across the pool and see my baby splashing away in my husband’s arms, loving his swimming class.  He was a natural water baby right from the start.  Sometimes he would catch sight of me, and I could see him laughing and saying, “Mama!”  The little old ladies in the class loved seeing him, too.  And I liked knowing that his father and I were being good models for him.

Unfortunately, I had to stop going to class for a loooooooooooooong time because of problems with non-healing wounds and repeated infections – a really unpleasant story I won’t share here right now.  (Fun times, let me tell you – aren’t immunosuppressant meds great?)  Then we just got busy and involved with other things.  But two weeks ago, we decided to start going back.  This time we joined the Y as a family (we were guests before) as part of a bigger commitment to exercise.  The AFAP classes are free to Y members, and the Y also offers free childcare to members while they are working out, so I would like to start going more than once a week.  (That’s if my son, now a toddler, will cooperate with the childcare thing – something we are working on.)  I’m also encouraging my husband to start swimming during the week – he likes it and hasn’t done it in years.  And we’ll keep up our family Saturdays, which are good for all of us. 

Well, I was going to write more – there are at least three more wagons in this particular part of the circle – but to tell the truth, I’m in a lot of pain today, and I’d still like to get something posted.  So I’ll sign off here, and tell you about the others when I’m able.

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  1. WarmSocks says:

    Sounds like the water exercise classes will work well for you and your family. I hope you keep us posted on how you’re doing with that. Best of luck!

  2. Amanda says:

    I’d love to hear more about the AFAP class- the only one offered at my Y is on Tuesdays at 10 am. Somehow, I don’t think my boss would be too thrilled with that!

  3. admin says:

    Amanda, what would you like to know?

  4. Annette says:

    I am so not into swimming. With the fatigue, for me all the work of getting there, parking, changing, showering etc. made it too much set up time for not enough muscle. (Of course not enjoying swimming/water may play a part)
    I have been doing a modified form of Pilates. I can even do some of the exercises in bed haha


  5. Amanda says:

    How is it different from regular water aerobics? I’ve always been curious because the few water aerobics classes I’ve taken are very basic in movement and figured there must be a difference because my gym offers the one AFAP class in addition to other water classes.

  6. admin says:

    It’s not much like water aerobics – it’s hardly aerobic at all. It’s a lot of stretching and range-of-motion exercises with the joints kept underwater for cushioning. We have different instructors who rotate. One of them is pretty dull – it seems as if we mostly walk back and forth in the pool, lifting our legs and swinging our arms in different ways. Another one is fun – we get those long flotation “noodles” and ride them like bicycles! Basically, the program takes you through all of the different joints in the body and moves them around in warm water.

    If you’re in decent shape, it’s not much of a workout at all, and water aerobics would probably be better. Some of the ladies in my AFAP class also go to the normal water aerobics classes when they’re feeling well. Mostly, I think the AFAP class keeps the joints flexible and keeps your range of motion in good shape. But I doubt it burns many calories, and probably doesn’t build a lot of muscle. It’s good for me when I’m flaring, but I’m definitely going to supplement with other exercise during times I’m feeling good. I’ll be writing more about the other exercises another time…

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