Class Introduces “A New Way”

According to recent National Center for Health statistics, 17.1 percent of children and adolescents 2 to 19 years of age (over 12.5 million) are overweight, and 32.2 percent of adults (over 66 million) are obese. Almost 5 percent of adults are considered extremely obese.

For someone dealing with morbid obesity, the physical and mental challenges that loom before a workout are sometimes so overwhelming that a person may never make it to the intended exercises.

A New Way is an aquatic fitness program provided by the city of Tucson Therapeutic Recreation staff that is designed to meet the needs of morbidly obese individuals. The class takes place at the Edith Ball Adaptive Aquatic Center, a center of excellence for persons with disabilities. This activity was judged the Best Aquatics Program at the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association 2007 Conference for its unique innovation and exceptional interagency collaboration.

A Collaborative Effort

A New Way was created when Therapeutic Recreation was contacted by a group affiliated with University Physicians Healthcare (UPH) that wanted to make use of the Adaptive Aquatic Center for its obese clients.

The initial class, the only one of its kind in the Phoenix area, was offered only for members of the UPH Obesity Support Group, but is now open to the community.

Careful Attention To Detail

In designing this class, there were several challenges to overcome. The first was addressing any safety concerns, including potential health risks to participants. After consulting with professional medical personnel, it was decided that the class would be held in the 84-degree outdoor recreational pool rather than in the indoor therapy pool. At 94 degrees, the therapy pool was too warm for strenuous exercise.

The class name and description were carefully considered, for the participants did not want the medical term “morbidly obese” used. The description in the Tucson Parks and Recreation catalog reads, “An easy-does-it workout for individuals who are clinically overweight — weighing more than twice the desirable body weight or more than 100 pounds overweight.”

Some of the barriers the individuals encountered included choosing appropriate and comfortable swim attire, transportation to the pool, fear and embarrassment of being seen in a public place, as well as physical challenges. To address this, the participants were permitted to wear stretch pants, shorts and T-shirts. Some participants found specialized transportation companies to bring them to the pool. The Adaptive Aquatics Pool has a zero-depth “beach entry” that allowed easier access, lessening the physical challenge of entering the pool.

Exercise Is Full Of Benefits

The program provides a relaxed, fun, low-impact workout to support participants in meeting their individual goals. An array of aquatic fitness equipment, including barbells and noodles, is employed, and participants use a specially designed water-walking channel, devised to provide resistance when exercising. The aquatic environment allows for low-impact exercises that increase range of motion, circulation and renal function. At the onset of the session, each participant sets individualized goals, which include weight loss, increased energy and stamina, increased socialization and friendships, and better overall health.

Each week following the fitness class, the participants meet under the pool ramada with a health education specialist from University Physicians Healthcare to discuss healthy lifestyles. Clients have reported many positive outcomes from the New Way class, including improved nutrition, friendship development, increased self-confidence and self-esteem, and increased knowledge about the importance of physical exercise. One participant was able to stop her blood pressure medication under her doctor’s supervision.

Since the program’s inception, all initial participants have re-registered, and with additional community sign-ups, the New Way class is at capacity. A class of a similar nature will be offered to serve children and teens that also have obesity concerns.

Beth Lucas, CTRS, is a supervisor for the city of Tucson’s Therapeutic Recreation. She can be reached at (520) 791-4873 ext. 320, or via e-mail at Beth.Lucas@tucsonaz.gov.

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