|Photo by Jeremiah Hill|
July 1, 2011
I hate exercising most of the time. It's a chore, it's a struggle, and I often find it to be a frustrating and confining experience. I was mentioning these reoccurring feelings to an athlete who replied, “If you don't like to exercise, you haven't tried enough activities.”
Exercising alone, such as a walk around the block, can be okay, but it can be lonely, boring, and lacking any sense of accountability.
On the flip side, I've found that exercising with others while maintaining a healthy sense of self-esteem is a hard thing for a 27 year old female with cerebral palsy to maintain in most public group exercise environments. When it comes to the local gym, it's hard to watch people right next to you twice your age run twice as fast for twice as long on the treadmill. It's hard to attend a fitness class only to feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with your same-age peers who are seemingly running circles around you. It's also hard to interact with the instructors' questions, comments, and stares when they have had little to no training in adaptive athletics and despite their best efforts, have no idea how to accommodate your needs.
So, after hearing a few suggestions, and mustering up a little courage, I decided to take the plunge...into the pool.
Like many Minnesotans, I struggle with SAD and was desperate one winter to find some physical activity that I could engage in consistently and not absolutely loathe. I was willing to try almost anything to get my body moving and my endorphins firing.
I found water aerobics.
At first, I got flack from family and friends alike. “That's for grannies!” “I saw a water aerobics class once. There were about five people in the pool with a combined age of 3,000.” Pretty soon, I didn't tell anyone about my discovery of this one activity that I had grown to appreciate, because I didn't know how to receive people's teasing comments, weird looks, and general lack of understanding.
To the critic's point, water aerobics has its own unique culture. In the four venues where I have participated in a class over the past five years, I have only had one male classmate and one male instructor. This sport has apparently been taken over by the ladies!
At times, participating in water aerobics has made me feel old. (Currently, I think I am the only one in the pool who doesn't have the words to ABBA's Greatest Hits memorized.) Occasionally I look around at my classmates in the pool and realize that I am the youngest one there, sometimes by 25 or 50 years! Something inside my brain screams at me, “You shouldn't be having this experience right now, you're too young!” Like it or not, it is often among this group of people where I feel I belong. Many have mobility issues due to the aging process. Their range of motion is sometimes limited, they're concerned about balance, they can't do all the same activities as their peers on dry ground....little is separating us except a few decades. In many ways, these kind ladies who warmly welcome me each morning are my peers.
Yet, as I walk down the ramp stepping into the pool's cool water, I am immediately reminded of why I got out of bed at 6:30AM on my day off to drive across town in order to exercise with women who can order off the back of a Perkin's menu. I feel FREEDOM!
Suddenly, I am immersed in an environment that allows me to move in ways and in positions that I can not experience on land. Suddenly, I can cross-country ski instead of falling flat on my face! Suddenly, I can kick with greater stability because the water and the swimming noodle are holding me up. Suddenly, I don't loathe exercise, I actually like it!
I have been advised by physicians and long-time participants that you can't lose weight doing water aerobics because it is not a weight-bearing activity. The resistance of the water can help to build strength, but it is important to cross-train on land. The good thing about working out in the pool is that I can work my body harder and subsequently raise my heart rate for a longer period of time. The water environment encourages movement. If you don't move your body the entire time, you will become cold and miserable!
It's often when I come out of the pool after moving non-stop for 50 minutes that I ask, “Why do I feel like I just met someone in a dark alley with a large stick?” I have to remind myself, while I grab the Advil, that I did just work out. It's a funny feeling because you can't feel the impact of your activity while you are doing it in the water, but when you dry off, you can feel the effects of your work, sometime for days!
It is not only the freedom I feel and the health benefits I receive, but also the water itself that I enjoy. When I'm moving around in the pool, it is almost feels as if I am navigating within a giant hug. I feel warm in its embrace. My need for touch is satisfied. I also feel hidden. The neat thing about water aerobics is that if you are in the water deep enough, no one can see or critique any of your movements. They just see a floating head. I can work to the best of my ability without anyone making comments or asking why I'm not able to do the exercises in the same manner as other 20-Somethings. This discretion is important to me. It helps me not to make comparisons, doesn't challenge my self-esteem, and gives me the freedom to be myself.
I'll see you at the pool!
Author's Note: I recently added more pages to my blog site which tell more of my story. You can access them on the right side of the page by clicking on “My story,” My story on YouTube,” or by visiting:http://jwalkinguphill.blogspot.com/p/my-story_21.html.