Archive for September, 2013

Aqua Woman

michelle nicole photography

michelle nicole photography

I have always enjoyed a very active lifestyle despite chronic pain caused by birth defects. I participated in various team sports throughout high school; I swam, ran with my father, and frequented the gym several times per week for strength training and aerobics classes. However multiple surgeries; and the fear of shattering my much older bones, fused and supported with titanium pins, has caused me to  re-evaluate my choices for physical fitness. I am now limited to low impact, low weight, and low speed options, which in my mind equates to Couch Potato.

Finding a method of exercise that provided benefits for my cardiovascular system while strengthening muscles, but without putting undue stress on my replacement parts was frustrating. Unable to find a reasonable solution, I contacted my physiatrist who recommended therapeutic swimming, particularly Water Aerobics. This idea intrigued me so I dutifully began to research the intricacies of Aquacise and found to my surprise that fun at the pool today, is much different from the hours of frolicking in cool water and sunshine that I remember as a child!

According to Bucknell University, there are many benefits of therapeutic swimming. These include improved flexibility and range of motion, increased circulation, relief of stress and tension, and improved muscle tone. 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.

This sounded like just the solution to my problem, so I visited my local YMCA for a program brochure, which offered a variety of Aquacise options for all ages, fitness levels and physical needs. Among the  many selections were:

Aqua Fitness

Aqua Zumba: which promised to bring the party to the pooloh la, la!

H2O Plyometrics: sounded painful!

H20 Resistance: optimizing Hydrostatic Pressure

H20 Toning: using balls, bands, barbells and noodles – could be dangerous

Water Pilates: promoting core stabilization to support the entire body

Deep Water Workout: a floatation belt is provided to keep one buoyant

Prenatal Hydro Aerobics: ah, NO! Not at my age!

Hydro Aerobics: utilizing water’s natural resistance to improve flexibility, shape and tone.

Without a delay or any hint of two-piece trepidation, I took the plunge! Grabbed my goggles, donned my lily adorned swim cap and joined my fellow swimsuit sheathed sirens in a Hydro Aerobics class. After brief introductions to the bevy of bathing beauties, I fell into formation for the warm up portion of our class during which I discovered that walking in water while kicking my bum is more difficult than it looks and that I am quite uncoordinated. Next, multi-colored water noodles were distributed and we were asked to mount them like H2O horses.

She cannot be serious; whatever happened to Marco Polo and Diving for Pennies?

Once mounted, our instructor challenged us to race our ‘horses’ to the opposite end of the pool using only our legs to paddle and to return using only our arms in breaststroke fashion. Ah, the game was afoot! I’m sure I saw the lifeguards placing bets for win, place and show behind their stand as I scooted by with the break neck speed of a slug.

The rest of the hour passed quickly as we systematically worked all of our large muscle groups, using maneuvers with cute names like Rocking Horse and Wheels on the Bus, in addition to challenging our cardiovascular system by jogging in place for interval training. Finally, we ended our class with gentle stretches poolside and deep breathing.

In a word, this class was FUN! I was very surprised by how many exercises I was able to do in the pool that I had been unable to engage in out of water and how good I felt hours later.  Although I did have subsequent muscle soreness, I was not in pain from over exerting.

 Friends, if you are looking for another fitness option, head in the right direction; ask your physicians if they think you would benefit from a program of Aqua Therapy or Aquacise. I’ll grab my noodle, Aqua Woman, out of her poolside paddock and meet you there. Odds are, you’ll have fun too!

An Apple a Day

michelle nicole photography

michelle nicole photography


As fall approaches, I have been anticipating crisp September mornings picking apples, sunny afternoons spent baking pies, and hot cider on the porch in the evening. Contemplating my upcoming apple harvest, I thought of all the apple idioms I know and among them, the old proverb first cited some 380 years ago touting an apple’s nutritious values: An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.

I wonder if this idiom has validity, as our immune systems are a complex network of special cells that defend our bodies from germs and foreign invaders. At the core, it has the ability to distinguish between itself and these foreign invaders. But do apples really play a part in the health?

One Bad Apple Spoils the BunchAutoimmune diseases are a result of regulatory cells called T Cells not doing their job. The result of their non-cooperation is misguided attacks on the body.

As American as Apple Pie – There are 80 known types of autoimmune diseases that affect 23.5 million Americans. These can affect anyone, but some people are more susceptible than others. Studies show that more women have been diagnosed than men have. Reproductive hormones may play a part in this finding.

The Apple of My Eye – One such disease – Fibromyalgia, has affected our daughter Michelle Nicole. Although not officially recognized as an autoimmune disease, Fibromyalgia possesses many symptoms of other autoimmune diseases. These include; long term and widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, memory and mood issues. Patients have also experienced chronic neck or back pain, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, tension headaches, TMJ and IBS.

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree Although not conclusive, some studies indicate that heredity and ethnicity may play a part in determining a diagnosis. Research is examining the possibility of a genetic mutation and it has been suggested people diagnosed with Fibromyalgia may process pain signals differently through the spinal cord to the brain, causing hypersensitivity.

Upset the Apple Cart – The exact cause of Fibromyalgia is still undetermined, however, in patients studied, there seems to be a pattern of onset following physical trauma, surgery, infections or significant psychological stress. Environmental exposure, over exposure to sunlight, chemical solvents, viral and bacterial infections are being considered as triggers as well.

Comparing Apples and Oranges – Getting a diagnosis can be a long and arduous process. Although each autoimmune disease is different, many share some of the same symptoms and require months of frustrating trial and error.

Bobbing for Apples – Finding the right doctor can be as difficult as this fun autumn game. Since there is no known cure for Fibromyalgia, collective care coordinated by several doctors in combination with alternative care practitioners can be individualized and provide the most benefit for patients. Consider all avenues of treatment which can include; Prescription Medication, Herbals, Physical Therapy, Acupuncture, Yoga,   Tai Chi, and Massage to name a few.

Rotten to the Core – In a word: suffering!

Easy as Apple Pie – Never fear, there are ways to handle flares. We have found that balance is key! A combination of healthy, well-balanced meals, regular physical activity and relaxation can help to reduce life’s little stressors which often trigger flares. Pace yourself, remember that not every day will be the same; set limits and be sure to get adequate rest each night. 7 to 9 hours will allow your tissues and joints much needed repair time.

Sure as Little Green Apples – There are many informational sites available, among them I found The Mayo Clinic web site very informative. Patients and caregivers can also benefit from support pages like FM Network.  As a chronic pain sufferer, I could relate to, and was deeply moved by, ‘A Letter to Normals’ which gives insight and suggestions to those wonderful (lucky) people in our lives who do not suffer, but attempt to support us and grope for the most encouraging words to offer those with chronic illnesses.

If you suspect that you may have an autoimmune disease or a chronic condition such as Fibromyalgia, don’t lose hope. Take a step in the right direction, talk to your practitioner about your concerns and educate yourself. How about them Apples?