Exercise . . . And So Much More

by Mary Jo Shannon

When I joined the Salem Family YMCA in January 2000 and enrolled in a water aerobics class, my main concern was relief for the pain of fibromyalgia. I had heard glowing reports from several women about the warm water arthritis class that brought relief for their various ailments —  hip replacement, arthritis and, yes, fibromyalgia. My rheumatologist gave wholehearted approval of this venture, so I made the decision to invest the time and money necessary to see if this was the right thing to do. Exercise in water is much easier on the joints and strengthens muscles as you push against its force.  I expected good results and I was not disappointed.

But I was surprised at the unanticipated blessings I received when I became part of that group.   An atmosphere of fellowship and friendliness is evident when I swipe my ID card and a cheerful receptionist greets me with a smile. It’s positively contagious! Even though I burned the toast and caught every red light on the way to the Y, my mood changes and I’m ready to joke with the ladies in the locker room.

During the warm-up, as the men and women walk back and forth across the pool, (sideways, backward, marching, jogging), we greet each other by name.  If someone is missing, you are sure to hear,” Where’s Carol? [or Jane, or Kathy, or Susie …] Did she say she was going somewhere?”

When the instructor calls “Find a spot,” we all seem to find our favorite spot – depending upon our height and the depth of the water, and the class begins. Laughter usually accompanies the 45 minute routine that provides a workout of all our muscles, including fingers and toes. It’s obvious the instructor loves her job and she makes the class fun while assuring that we get a thorough workout.

Dick Smith, a longtime participant with his wife Jean, occasionally provides interesting historical trivia, his deep voice booming across the water as we march in place or cross country ski. He once gave a running account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, announcing each day what was happening to those adventurous explorers.

Sometimes there is good-natured ribbing in the women’s locker room after showers and sauna  (for those who can stand the heat). To save time changing clothes, we wear our swim suits under our outer clothing when we come. When someone forgets to pack underwear, we all kid her, but let her know that it happens to everyone, sooner or later. And no one will guess that such essentials are missing. It may be the “in thing” for certain young celebrities, but not for us grandmothers! You can bet we go straight home when we leave the Y – and you can bet we remember the next time.

But joking and laughter are not the only components of our relationship. These men and women from many different backgrounds express genuine concern and support for one another. When one woman went through the pain of watching her husband’s health deteriorate, everyone offered support, asking for updates on his condition, and listening with compassion as she related details of the complicated diet she prepared for him, her frustration as she watched his condition decline, and her mixed feelings of hope and fear. We inquired regularly about his status, offering to help and often calling her to check if she missed a class. When the inevitable occurred, Y buddies were among the mourners who gathered at his funeral.

Similar compassion is expressed regularly when someone is hospitalized, is in rehab after surgery, or when someone loses a spouse of other loved one. Cards are placed on a bench outside the pool for signatures to convey concern..

After class is over some stay to socialize with coffee and conversation in another room. Occasionally luncheons are offered on Wednesdays, and our class has met at a restaurant for lunch together.

Doctors say that exercise, laughter and social interaction are healing forces. I know when I miss several sessions, I can really tell the difference in my aches and pains. One of my friends agreed, but added, “I also miss the fellowship.”

Hanging in the corridor among the posters announcing a multitude of opportunities for all ages, is a framed statement that sums up the spirit of the Salem Family YMCA:

“Encourage one another and build each other up.” I Thessalonians 5:11.



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