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Working through arthritis pain

Posted: August 30, 2009 10:25 p.m.
Updated: August 31, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Class members, from left, Sharlene Philbook, Maria Bluem, Ruby Collins and Beverly Shipley give themselves a hug to increase mobility.

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They clutch squishy plastic balls and stretch their legs into the air with fervor.

Joint pain doesn’t slow down the participants at the Arthritis Foundation’s People with Arthritis Can Exercise class at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center each Wednesday. 

That’s precisely the point, according to PACE certified instructor Linda Bennett.

 “We use small movements and larger movements to manipulate the joints, to help those with arthritis get fit and feel better,” Bennett said. “I tell my class if they don’t use it, they’ll lose it. They can often do a lot more than they thought they could.”

Held every Wednesday at 10:20 a.m. in the center’s lunchroom, the class costs just $1 and lasts for a half-hour. Bennett leads the dozen or so participants, aged 60–85, through a series of stretches and movements that simulate real life while seated in a chair.

Participants handle a small ball and are encouraged by Bennett to “roll the dough.” Then they encircle the ball with their thumb and forefinger, with Bennett holding up her hand and saying, “It’s A-OK.”

Next, Bennett sets down a plastic bucket and encourages everyone to throw in their plastic balls. Cheers erupt whenever anyone makes the shot.

“I have people tell me that they often get more from this class than physical therapy. I think it’s the sense of socialization and camaraderie. It’s interactive,” Bennett said.

Kathy Shipley, a Saugus resident, smiled as she watched her mother-in-law Beverly tentatively do leg extensions with the help of a large, colorful rubber band. Beverly, who hails from Michigan, is new to the area, but took advantage of similar classes before she moved a few months ago.

Shipley thought PACE class would be a good way for her mother-in-law to get acquainted with her new neighborhood and fit at the same time.

“It’s a real safe environment for seniors, to be exercising amongst their peers. I think Beverly has a lot more energy now. I kid with her that she’s getting guns,” Shipley said as she flexed her bicep.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, regular exercise can improve overall health and fitness, as well as arthritis symptoms by keeping the joints moving, strengthening the muscles around the joints, keeping bones strong and healthy, helping complete daily activities more easily, increasing energy, improving sleep, controlling weight and improving self-esteem.

Bess Barber of Newhall, who’s been attending PACE classes off and on since 1984, said she’s seen the benefits firsthand. Barber suffers from osteoarthritis and has had hip, knee, and kneecap replacement surgeries.

“It’s helped tremendously. It helps keep me flexible. For a while I was walking with a walker. Now I don’t need it at all,” she said. “It also keeps me from sitting at home and feeling sorry for myself.”

While the class is geared towardsarthritis sufferers, it’s open to anyone and can also particularly benefit those who have experienced a stroke, as Bennett illustrated. 

“In addition to stretching, we do lots of eye/hand coordination movements that improve reaction time. If someone’s had a stroke, especially if it’s severe, these techniques can be really helpful in getting balanced and achieving better movement,” she said.

Some use it as a preventative measure, such as Sharlene Philbrook of Newhall, who’s been PACE’ing herself for a few years now.
“I’m very fortunate, I don’t have arthritis. Hopefully this will help prevent it or lessen it, should I get arthritis in the future,” Philbrook said.

Whatever their physical ability, PACE participants are encouraged to give it their all during this non-competitive workout.

“I tell everyone to listen to their pain and work at their own level. Sometimes you have to work through a little bit of pain to get to the next level, but it’s worth it,” Bennett said. “I’ve had people tell me afterwards that they can do a lot of things they didn’t know they could, like playing with their grandkids.”

PACE class takes place at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, 22900 Market Street, Newhall.  For more information, call (661) 259-9444 or visit www.scvsc.org. For more information on arthritis and exercise, visit www.arthritis.org.

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