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Crystal Clear Fitness
Water. Crystal, shimmering, drifting water. It makes up 76% of our body. It covers 70% of our planet. It falls, it evaporates, it flows and it flees. We need it to do so many things in our lives. However, it is rarely used beyond human survival. Yes, we can swim in it. Yes, we can use it for spectacular water gun fights. However, there are more productive ways of using this magnificent natural resource. Started in the 1900’s, water aerobics efficiently uses the amazing qualities that water has to thoroughly exercise the human body. When people think of water aerobics, they stereotypically think old. Grey. Sagging. I thought that there was more to it, I wondered, “How does water aerobics improve the overall wellbeing of people?” To answer my question, I examined a class at the Minnetonka Lifetime Fitness Club titled “Aqua Fitness,” with the instructor Terri Hamilton.
Going to the class I figured that it would be pretty boring. I had heard many of my grandmother’s stories about the classes she had taken at her retirement home, so I figured all the other water aerobics classes would be like my hers. The pool would be over chlorinated and humid, perfect for any headache. The tile around the pool would be disgusting, slippery and moldy. Upon the walls would be small windows that would put up a pathetic attempt to let in weak streams of sunshine. The calm aqua pool filled with colored water noodles would be offset by the echoes of little kids screaming as they go down a waterslide. I pictured a large class of all women. The class description said that it was easy on the joints, so I figured it would be mostly the elderly and pregnant. The instructor in my mind was fit and preppy. You know, the ex-cheerleader type. Bouncing around in a tankini to the obnoxious techno music, she would scream “You can do it! Don’t give up! Follow your dreams!” to which the group would reply to with pathetic, weak grunts. These people would be wearing unattractive blue and black swimsuits. You know, the ones in the plus-size section with the skirts, saggy enough to cover the thighs and ripples of fat while still exposing a little cleavage. Matching these fabulous swimsuits would be Speedo® rubber swim caps with little wisps of white hair poking out from the sides.
In my mind, the women would be gathered in pairs. During breaks they would be chatting with their few friends, often mentioning their family, politics, and book clubs. When someone would bring up an interesting story from the week, the others would all call in delight, “Ohhhh!” However, these conversations would be hard to catch over the loud music, which would leave your ears throbbing. There would be a little gossiping, but of course there would be the teacher’s pets that flock the instructor like geese and shoot the talkers dirty looks. The chatty women would probably be the stragglers in the back of the class, who spend more time talking than exercising. When they do actually work, they would constantly glace around to see if they are doing the right moves. However, these moves would be slow and not complex, leaving little space for mistake.
So as you can tell, I pretty much had answered my question already. I thought that water aerobics actually does not improve the wellbeing of those in the class. But, by this time I was already in the car and on my way to Lifetime, so I might as well watch the class.
Upon my arrival at eight o’clock sharp that peaceful Saturday morning, I was automatically stricken with shock. What I had thought to be a disgusting, unhappy pool area was actually warm and welcoming. After inhaling my first breathe of wholesome vanilla-coconut scented air, I glanced around and discovered the warm beige paint. The color was a mix of caramel and mocha, with cinnamon marshmallow tiles lining the bottom half of the walls. The multicolored neutral tiles gave the room an almost Tuscan style. However, the mixture of the vanilla-coconut scent and Jamaican music made the pool seem closer to the Caribbean. Two pools were put in the room, one for swimming laps, and one for the class to take place in. Both of the pools were lined with royal blue tiles and bottomed with snow white cement. The crystal clear water was almost surreal. How could a pool remain that still? It was as see-through as the beaches in Cancun, Mexico. Adding to that simile were the brown wooden lounge chairs lining the pool. They were covered with off-white pillows, which I discovered were amazingly comfortable. Bubbling hot tubs and smoky steam rooms waited for takers behind fogged doors on the side of the pool area. The whole scene seemed like a spa! One wall sported the Lifetime logo in sterling silver three foot tall letters.
The lighting around the pool was 100% natural, brought in through the massive windows. When glancing at the view, I caught a glimpse of cars passing on Minnetonka Boulevard through the thick ever-greens. As I sat down in one of the wooden lounge chairs, I began to tap my foot to the catchy music. “Turn the Beat Around” by Gloria Estefan had been playing softly through high-tech speakers when I first came in, but the disco music had been replaced by a soft Spanish guitar with an exotic female singer. Throughout the class the music drifted between a relaxing disco, Spanish and Jamaican. Beach resorts came to my mind.
While taking in the scene, the instructor, Terri Hamilton, joined my presence. While I explained to her about how I wanted to watch her class, she smiled and nodded. The twinkle in her eye stood out through her well-tanned skin and thick dark hair. She had one of those great smiles, the kind that makes you smile just talking with them. A shadow was cast on her forehead by the light blue hat on her head, decorated with breast cancer awareness and smiley face pins. I would guess she was about 45 or 50 years old, which was older that I had expected. In a way that was a positive thing. She had more experience than a teacher in their 30’s, and seemed genuinely interested in the class, which was hard to expect out of a younger instructor.
The athletes in the class were not what I expected at all. Rather than being elderly, they appeared to only be in their middle 40’s. There was one older woman in the class, but otherwise all the participants looked young and fit. To my surprise, there were two men. One of the men was curiously quiet and hung near the back of the group. In a firm contrast, the other man was very flamboyant. He was very loud and almost appeared full of himself. I guess he would be one of those guys who was all-that in high school, but never really lived past his popular days. Overall the group was a little weird, but they were still people that you could see in your average day.
As the class progressed, the mood of the happy students turned into a more determined feeling. The tiresome activities seemed to be having a rough effect. “Shooting Hoops,” Terri explained, “strengthens your calves.” This particular activity consists of holding an exercise ball over your head, bending your knees really low, and then trying to jump as high out of the pool as possible. Another exercise which was used multiple times throughout the class was simply jogging in place. On a side note, I discovered quite an odd thing while watching this class. The students walked into the pool wearing tennis shoes and webbed gloves. After the class I asked the instructor why this was, and it turned out that the weight of the shoes in the water strengthens their thighs while jogging in place, and the webbed gloves add resistance to the exercise. I found this quite interesting because they were doing simple things to improve how they could use the water to strengthen their body.
Another peculiar event which occurred while I was observing was that the class was smiling and cheering while they would exercise. If one person would start to appear tired, the group would exclaim "Woohoo! You can do it! Don't stop!" and the burst of encouragement would keep them going. This event really symbolized the positive effects of group workouts. They can work as a team to achieve their group fitness goals. Over months of this same group taking this class together, they formed an unbreakable bond. These friends can help each other work to the point they want, and talk about the different things holding them back. Not only do these people help each other in class, but they have become an intertwining community of athletic goals, books to read, recipes, friends, stories, and support. At Lifetime, experts have discovered that group fitness is at a 90% success rate due to these strong bonds between members because it provides people with the resources and support that they need to reach their fitness goal. The simplicity of the water aerobics class cheering each other on symbolizes this bond.
One woman stood out to me, and I later learned her name to be Sue Norris. She had a short childproof haircut, and though it was most likely dyed, it seemed to fit her look very well. Sue sported a red one-piece swimsuit with the red-cross emblem on it. She was the first one in the pool, so I had paid close attention to her. No mascara lined her bright blue eyes, and no lipstick painted the lips around her soft smile. She had a modest diamond ring on her left hand, which made me assume she had a small family supported by herself and her husband. To be honest, she looked like a mother. She had “MOM” stamped all over her look. She seemed like the average person you would see walking around your neighborhood, and that is where I pictured her. Sue talked with her friends during the class, but it slight enough to not appear obnoxious. She seemed like she was actually enjoying the tough exercises! There were questions in my head that were still unanswered, so I decided to ask her these.
"So, why did you even start coming to this class?" I questioned as she towel-dried off.
"My husband and I were members of Lifetime, and I was looking for more classes to take. I used to be a runner, and I had injuries in my knees and ankles from it, so I could only do a joint sensitive exercise. I needed a class that would be good exercise that I could do with my friends. My first class I came with my friends. I work at an elementary school in Minnetonka during the day, so I could only take a class at nights and Saturday mornings because I go to church. I do this class on Tuesday nights also." Sue's classic Minnesotan accent was shining through her words.
"What did you think of it?"
"It was a lot harder than I thought! It was better exercise than I expected. Everyone was out of breathe and drinking water in between exercises. I actually hurt after the class from cramped muscles but I was relieved and relaxed later on in the day."
"How about the people in the class? What do you think of them?"
"I was surprised, in a good way, about all the friends I made in the class! I came with my friends, but I love the whole class! The class is mostly regulars, and so you can tell when someone is gone that day. I wouldn't take the class if [my friend] Sue didn't take it with me, and unless Terri [the instructor] leaves, I think I'll continue it for a while. I actually see a lot of my friends out of Lifetime. We share recipes and emails and it is really fun!"
"Do you take other group Lifetime classes?"
"Well, sure, I guess I take a class once in a while and I work out here too."
After receiving this answer, I wondered more about whether water aerobics is very significant or not, so I asked Sue if it was her main form of exercise, to which she replied “No, but it is one of the top ones!”
"Is the hour long class a good time, or is it too long or too short?"
"Well, I used to be an athlete and could probably do and hour and fifteen minutes, but most people think that the hour long class is perfect so it is A-OK with me."
After my conversation with Sue, I asked Terri about why the water is such a good place for exercise. She explained to me that water is perfect for buoyancy and resistance. For example, a 140 pound woman weighs only 14 pounds in the water, so it reduces painful joint impact on the pool floor, and increases flexibility. Resistance in water ranges between 4 and 42 times higher than air, so the water acts almost like a workout machine. Terri explained to me that there are many little things you can do in the water to increase the resistance, such as straightening limbs, cupping hands, and increasing speed. I learned that in this hour long class, the students burn between 400 and 700 calories, which really shows that these people are active athletes, not the average day grandparent. I learned that this class really is hard, but a good workout helps one feel healthier all around.
So, my preconceived notions were a little off. Scratch that- they were a lot off. The people in the “aqua fitness” class were not old and sagging, but rather middle aged and fit. The class is a fun way for them to exercise and have fun with friends, while getting a good workout. The class was not disgusting, but rather warm and welcoming. Water aerobics helps the people in it by creating a supportive place to exercise and make new friends. My original question, “How does water aerobics improve the overall wellbeing of people?” was thoroughly answered. This class covers all part of the health triangle: Physical, Social, and Mental. The class is a physically strong workout. The exercises are tough on your body and help strengthen everything. It is full of friends helping each other achieve their goals, which covers the social part. Finally, any time of fitness is mental because it releases endorphins that relax your mind. Therefore, this class covers all of a person’s wellbeing. The average person would not have known how interconnected the people in group fitness are, nor would they have known how easily they add another branch to their tree as a welcoming to another member. The stereotypical water aerobics class is not the truth, and everyday people should understand that they are actually fit, healthy and fun.
Water Aerobics is an enjoyable, athletic class, rather than an outdated dull activity for elders. It is great that humans are able to use such a beautiful element as water to become healthy, strong people. Water is used to cooking, cleaning, and washing in our homes. In the world it is used to generate energy and hydrate citizens. But in nature it can cascade onto the rocky bottoms of a fall and provide a habitat to the quirky colorful fish. Among all these other uses of water is “aqua fitness.” Water aerobics is using water to its benefit, rather than just being wasteful. It truly is a good way to spend time and improve your overall wellbeing.