Volume 75, Number 48 | April 19 - 25 2006

Sports

Ron Valiente leading a water aerobics class at the McBurney YMCA on W. 14th St. at Sixth Ave.

The water-method man: Treating arthritis in the pool

By Judith Stiles

Trainer Ron Valiente stands waist deep in the McBurney YMCA pool flexing his fingers underwater. He explains to a class full of lovely ladies that this particular exercise will make it a slam dunk every time they try to put a key in the slot of their front door. A simple movement such as threading a needle or unlocking a door can be very painful for anyone who suffers from arthritis, which is precisely why certified water aerobics instructor Valiente gathers with 25 women and an occasional gent, to bob up and down in the pool for a vigorous workout tailored to the over-55 crowd.

The buoyancy of water reduces the pressure on joints, making it possible for people with arthritis to exercise with a greater range of motion. Plus it can be fun with an experienced teacher like Valiente who keeps the class running at a brisk pace.

“There’s no free lunch! In spite of what the drug companies tell you, a pill won’t do everything,” he tells his students as they run in place in the water, which can be rather difficult if you suffer from joint pain. “Most people just think about doing exercise and then they go back to watching TV. But you are here!” shouts Valiente across the rippling water, praising his students.

There are over 100 types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three Americans will suffer from arthritic conditions and baby boomers are not exempt. According to a study, published in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health, obesity rates have spiked for baby boomers, those born from 1946-1965, compared to the previous generation. Losing weight and taking pressure off the joints can help relieve arthritis pain, along with an appropriate low-impact exercise program.

Instructor Valiente chooses from more than 75 water exercises from the Arthritis Foundation, which he presents to the group over a five-month period. In the first 10 minutes of his class, he works on simply getting the blood circulating by leading everyone in a little standing breaststroke to the count of 24. He increases the tempo, emphasizing how important it is to inhale and exhale in a rhythmic way. In a friendly baritone voice he points out to the group, “Unlike in a pool, on dry land you know you’re warmed up when you break into a slight sweat!” So far the ladies seem cool as cucumbers, as a few class members giggle their way through more vigorous arm circles and finger flexing. One class member blurts out, “I’m getting ready for bungee jumping!” as she tries to jog immersed in the water.

Valiente has been teaching water aerobics at the YMCA for more than nine years in what he calls “giving back to the community” the knowledge and experience he has gained from leading a healthy lifestyle. He received his certification as a specialist in water aerobics for arthritis and related conditions from the YMCA in Woodbridge, N.J. Although he is in his 60s, he has the agility of a young man and a joyful optimism he brings to every class. As an instructor in New York City, he has developed a faithful following of students who have taken his class for several years in a row.

“Exercising in the water is more forgiving than playing tennis. After Ron’s class I always feel great and the results are lasting,” says the aspiring septuagenarian bungee jumper near the end of the session.

In the other half of the pool there are a few “active older adults” doing laps to and fro in what are dubbed the “slow” and “walking” lanes. Valiente supports lap swimming as an antidote to aches and pains, but if the lonesome life of a lap swimmer is not for you, hop the rope and join Valiente’s class, where it is not so lonely and chatting is allowed. All newcomers are welcome, and when those creaky arms and legs start swinging, you just might feel like part of Maestro Valiente’s synchronized swimming show, starring smiling, pain-free ladies and gentlemen.

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