In February of 2010, Carolyn Giacalone, who presides over Pilates and men’s and women’s stretch classes at the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter, began giving a warm-pool class there on Tuesday and Thursday mornings whose exercises were designed by the American Arthritis Foundation, which has found that one in five Americans has some form of arthritis.
A certified American Arthritis Foundation instructor, Giacalone said during a recent conversation that “it’s a very specific workout designed by orthopedists to get the inflammation out of the joints. That’s what arthritis is — inflamed joints. . . . [The regimen] has been around for years, but it gets better and better. It’s not only for people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, but for everyone . . . for those with joint replacements, spinal injuries and conditions, people recovering from surgery or undergoing chemotherapy, for those who’ve had strokes. . . . It’s also good physical therapy for more active people. It’s good for people of any age.”
Among the Arthritis Foundation’s requirements is that the pools in which its classes are taught be heated to between 88 and 91 degrees.
“In the pool there’s no impact,” Giacalone continued. “It takes the impact off the joints, and you have such a great range of motion in the pool because of the buoyancy of the water, which, of course, you don’t have on land. Your sense of balance is much better in the water too. The participants say they feel wonderful afterward — they say they miss the classes if they don’t come.”
Primarily, the exercises, she said, are designed to increase the range of motion in joints and to strengthen the muscles. “Weak muscles add to joint problems,” she said, “so we also work on balance and coordination. The foundation says that when done twice a week its workout will reduce pain and fatigue while increasing one’s ability to function in day-to-day life.”
“It’s certainly helped me,” said Bruce Weed, one of Giacalone’s regulars. “I started last spring, a year ago. I had arthritis in my hips. At first I thought it was the biggest waste of an hour. You’re not aware, because you’re in a pool, I guess, of the effectiveness of the exercises. You don’t think you’re doing anything. But when I got out, I could feel a positive change, an absence of pain.”
“It’s been a lifesaver for me,” said Michelle Shulman. “I’ve got arthritis in my hips, knees, ankles, and back. Joan Hollenbeck, my friend, told me about this wonderful arthritis class over a year ago, and I said sure I’d come — why not. . . . Getting into that nice warm water was very effective. I sleep very well at night! I do love the class. The exercises are very effective, and Carolyn’s the best.”
Moreover, she said, “the group is so much fun. We laugh a lot, we’ve sort of bonded.”
“I feel more flexible, much better,” said Hollenbeck. “It’s pain-free exercise developed by rheumatologists and orthopedic doctors, and Carolyn is a certified Arthritis Foundation instructor. And it’s fun!”
And also affordable. The classes can cost as little as $6.25 each if a senior member of the Y were to buy a 20-session card. Nonmembers can sample the class too by buying a five-session card for $45.
While participants should take towels, bathing caps are not required, said Giacalone. The water in the pool in which the classes are conducted is shoulder-height.
“I hope more do come,” said Shulman. “Especially in the winter.”