The other day, I said something that I still think was brilliant. “I may not ever run a marathon, but I think my whole life is a marathon. I have to pace myself and work hard at today’s race, so that I can make it to the end in the best shape possible.” Now, by “best shape” I didn’t mean a certain dress size. I meant living in a healthy and active way – choosing to live the way I want to instead of having my chronic pain dictate my limitations.
Having lived with pain for most of my adult life (which I confess is now a couple of decades or so), I’ve developed some chronic pain relief strategies. In my twenties and thirties, one of my key strategies was getting regular exercise. But as my pain progressed, my old exercise styles didn’t suit me anymore. They actually generated more pain instead of helping to create relief.
During this time, my aunt kept telling me how much she loved getting into the pool for her water exercise classes. But my perception was that those classes were only filled with 70+ ladies … and that I would feel out of place. Boy, was I ever wrong! Okay, there are a bunch of ladies (and a few brave men) from many different decades of their lives including some over 80 years old. But the class includes people in their thirties and forties too!
I started taking water exercise classes a few years ago, and it has been a fantastic experience! I was reminded how much I love it this week because as I hopped in the pool after several weeks of feeling crummy, I felt like I was home. But why is water exercise so great when you live with chronic pain?
My friend Janet Hartlove says it so well in her recent blog, Aqua Woman. She says, “As 90% of our bodies are buoyant in water, the joints take less stress with movement, which can help people with painful conditions such as Arthritis and Fibromyalgia. Hydrostatic pressure; the constant weight of the fluid acting on our bodies in all directions, (think full body shape-ware), provides 12-14% more resistance in a pool, strengthening muscles with every movement we make.”
There are many benefits to water exercise. Lots of articles will tell you about the way it strengthens our muscles, but I also want to point out that it makes us more flexible. After ten years of working with many massage clients, I have learned that you can’t trade flexibility for strength. You need both!
I’ve also found that water exercise benefits my mental health. Maybe it’s the reminders of my childhood summers in the pool, but I just feel happy in the water. And when I’m busting a move in the pool, I’m also generating my body’s own feel-good hormones. People living with chronic pain, are more likely to live with depression. For me, getting in the pool helps combat those feelings! And all those other students are just so lovely – I’ve really enjoyed the social connections too!
So, would you give it a try? Would you run a mile in a pool? Let me know!
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