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Seniors head to the pool

Health: Those with arthritis and other health problems turn to aqua aerobics

Posted: June 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Lifeguard Johnny Howell gives instructions to seniors participating in the Aqua Aerobics class held at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center in Canyon Country on Wednesday.

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Five years ago, Howard Charnaw, 69, of Agua Dulce was overweight, suffered from arthritis and, in his own words, was “one step away from a wheelchair.”

Charnaw’s physician recommended trying low-impact exercise to help turn his condition around. What Charnaw, a retired electrician, chose was aqua aerobics, and that decision has fundamentally altered his health, he said.

“It’s been a real lifesaver for me. Now I can do all kinds of things again. It’s built up my muscles and stamina, and I’ve lost weight. I can ride a horse again,” Charnaw said. “I still have arthritis, but its nowhere near as bad.”

Three to five times a week, Charnaw can be found at the aqua aerobics class held at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center.

The center holds classes three days a week throughout the year, and the schedule expands in the summertime. Classes start at $5 per session and last for one hour.

“The value is really there,” Charnaw said.

Though its open to everyone, according to center recreation director Lance O’Keefe, aqua aerobics is very popular with seniors, who make up approximately 60 percent of the class.

“We hear nothing but positive feedback. So much that we now offer classes six days a week in the summer months during the morning, afternoon and evening hours,” O’Keefe said.

For Jane Hughes, of Newhall, 66, aqua aerobics was something of a return to a sport she always loved.

“I was on the girls swim and water-ballet teams in high school. Swimming is a great way to lose weight. I’ve lost 50 pounds since I started doing aqua aerobics two years ago,” Huges said.

The retired Washington Mutual banker can be found at the Aquatic Center pool every day it’s open for aqua aerobics.

“I love it. I’m one of those that goes all year long. A lot of people in class won’t come if the wind is blowing or the clouds are out, but I’m there. I never miss a class,” she said.

With two knee-replacement surgeries under her belt, Hughes finds aqua aerobics not just fun, but effective. “It’s easy to move in the water and not put a lot of strain on your joints, yet you get the full benefit,” she said. “When I first started going to class, I couldn’t put my arm on top of my head, but now I can reach over and touch my other shoulder. It really does help a lot.”

Mary Kovacic, of North Hollywood, drives to the center every day classes take place. The retired janitor, 75, had a pinched nerve in her right hip before she started taking aqua aerobics.

Physical therapy hadn’t relieved her condition as much as Kovacic had hoped, so when her daughter, who lives in the Santa Clarita Valley, recommended aqua aerobics at the Aquatic Center, she was more than game to try it.

“I left my crutches near the pool. I went three times and began to walk with no crutches,” Kovacic said. “It helped me a lot. Everyone’s so nice, and they take the time to answer any questions you may have. I like getting in the water to be with the people and the instructors.”

For the last year and a half, John Howell has been teaching aqua aerobics at the center. It’s something the instructor and lifeguard student really enjoys.

“Seniors listen a lot better than some of the other people do, and they’re really good to talk with,” he said. This has helped them with flexibility, and it’s really good exercise. It makes me feel good to be able to help someone.”

Aqua aerobics at the Santa Clarita Aquatic center takes place Monday through Saturday, noon to 1 p.m., at the 50-meter pool. The center is located at 20850 Centre Pointe Parkway, Santa Clarita. Morning and evening aqua aerobics classes are available at the Newhall Pool or Valencia Glen Pool. For more information, call (661) 250-3766 or visit


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