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December 23, 2009 > Popular Women's Center Arthritis Class Looks to Expand

Popular Women's Center Arthritis Class Looks to Expand

Gentle Exercise Helps Maintain Strength and Balance While Reducing Pain

When she was first kicking off a new Arthritis Foundation exercise program at the Washington Women's Center, center coordinator, Kathy Hesser, R.N., thought it would be successful if five people signed up. Then ten eager participants showed up for the first class, and since then the program has only continued to generate more and more interest.

"This class is an Arthritis Foundation official class," Hesser explains. "The foundation has physical therapists, rheumatologists and other arthritis experts that evaluate and update the exercises, and our instructors must be certified through foundation. This is a great ongoing program that we just updated this fall. We are continuously integrating new exercises into the program, so the program is always improving and growing.

"The bottom line is that the program does help with flexibility and, most importantly, balance. For older people with arthritis, falls are the worst thing that can happen to them. By making sure you maintain your strength and balance and decrease your pain, this program can help keep you at a level where you are maintaining activities of daily living."

Gentle exercises increase strength and promote relaxation

Classes are structured in an intimate group setting - women only - and participants go through a series of gentle exercises while listening to relaxing music.

Warm-up begins in a seated position on a chair and progresses into gentle range-of-motion and isometric exercises. Hesser then leads participants through a mild resistance training routine for the arms and legs with the use of elastic bands.
From there, participants move into the endurance portion of the program, in which they work on more than one joint at a time. All exercises can be performed while seated in a chair, Hesser points out, and if seated, participants perform the endurance section by moving their arms and legs while in a seated position.
Cool-down is performed with some fluid motions and a few additional range-of-motion and isometric sequences. The finale is the relaxation component, which Hesser says is the most popular part of the entire routine.

"After relaxation, everyone leaves feeling very calm and more in-tune with their body," she says. "Along with decreased pain, they also feel more energy and sleep better at night. Most people, when they start, say: 'This is way too easy,' and by the time they leave, they're saying: 'I feel better, and I can turn my head more.'
"Generally, what I get people telling me that have been going to the classes is that it works - it decreases their pain and helps them stay stronger. People who were going on trips say they were able to do the things they wanted to do during their vacation. An important added benefit is that many said their blood pressure was better."

Co-ed arthritis exercise class on the horizon

Hesser credits Dr. Barry Shibuya, M.D., a Washington Hospital rheumatologist, as the one who recommended the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program, which will mark its third anniversary at the Women's Center in July of 2010.

The current women-only has two sections:
* Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.
* Mondays and Thursdays from 3 to 4 p.m.

The morning class on Mondays and Wednesdays, Hesser says, only has a few more openings, but the afternoon class on Mondays and Thursdays has additional space for new participants.

Hesser also has been in the process of training new instructors, and due to popular demand from men in the community, the Women's Center is looking to add a co-ed, evening timeslot for the class, likely to begin in March of 2010.

"We're looking at the right after work timeslot for the potentially co-ed class," she says. "This probably will be a bit of a younger group. In the future, we may look at adding a class that is just for men."

An orthopedic nurse, who Hesser says has great experience, is slated to teach the new co-ed class. The other instructors that she is mentoring for future sections of the class include registered nurses and pulmonary therapists.

"Many of the patients with respiratory problems also have arthritis, so many of the 'Better Breathers' from the hospital's Better Breathing for Life Club take this class," she points out. "This class is just one more way that we're tying together all our wonderful services that the hospital offers on an outpatient basis."

Learn more

To find out more about the ongoing Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program or to get details about the newest section of the class slated to open in March of 2010, call Kathy Hesser at (510) 608-1356.

For more information about programs and services at the Washington Women's Center, visit, click on the "Services" tab and select "Washington Women's Center" from "Specialized Programs."

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