This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Salina Journal.
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — When Larry Plaggerman was 59, he ran the Boston Marathon.
Twenty years later, the Salina man has difficulty even walking short distances.
Rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disorder that mainly affects the body’s joints, put an end to Plaggerman’s marathon running career.
“I’ve had the most problem with my knees,” he said. “I had a right knee replacement and am basically in remission now. But it put an end to my running.”
To keep physically active, Plaggerman now relies on stretching exercises and swimming, as well as a new class called EnhanceFitness that he recently joined at the Salina Family YMCA, the Salina Journal reports.
Introduced at the facility to coincide with Arthritis Awareness Month in May, EnhanceFitness is an evidence-based group exercise program that utilizes simple, easy-to-learn movements that help motivate people with arthritis to remain active.
In one-hour classes at the YMCA, participants spend time working on exercises designed to improve their physical strength, increase flexibility, provide better balance, enhance cardiovascular fitness and reduce arthritic pain.
In just two months, Plaggerman said he already can feel the difference in his mobility and flexibility.
“This really has been a great improvement,” he said. “The stretching helps because you concentrate on those little areas you don’t pay attention to.”
Good class to get started
Plaggerman participated in a recent Friday afternoon class with about 20 other seniors. EnhanceFitness classes also are scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This particular class was taught by Salinans Bill Calhoun and Adela Vargas, who led participants through stretching, strength and movement exercises.
The exercises were set to a continuous musical soundtrack mixing country, jazz, blues and rock classics.
“This gets people into the exercise habit who haven’t exercised much lately because of arthritis,” Calhoun said. “It’s a good class to get you started. You have to start somewhere, and you don’t want to be overwhelmed.”
The class is divided into 20-minute segments that focus on different areas, from stretching to strength training to cardio work. Some participants even put small weights on their wrists and ankles to increase their exercise benefit, Vargas said.
“After a few weeks, I can tell they’re moving faster, and they have better balance, too,” she said.
Arthritis ‘all over my body’
Salinan Midge Encinias, 68, said she has arthritis “all over my body” and has had two knee replacements. She, too, has noticed a remarkable difference in her mobility since she began taking classes June 30.
“My daughter told me I needed to get into this class, and it’s been wonderful,” she said. “I don’t have the aches like I did. I can get up now without hurting.”
Encinias said if she misses just one class now, she can feel it.
“I do this class Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and I swim Monday, Wednesday and Fridays,” she said. “I’m here five days a week, and I love it.”
Many people affected
According to information provided by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, one in four Kansas adults — more than 500,000 — have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis. Of those, 32 percent reported that arthritis affects their work, and 41 percent said it affects their social activities.
A whopping 89 percent said they have never taken a class to learn about managing arthritis symptoms.
YMCA gets a grant
To help improve the quality of life for those with arthritis, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment provided the Salina Family YMCA a grant of $3,500 to help start the Enhance Fitness program. The grant helped provide training for instructors and the purchase of equipment, such as ankle and wrist weights, said Ellen Hogeland, senior director of membership and wellness at the YMCA.
“The KDHE believes in community health and prevention of chronic diseases, which is what we believe in, too,” she said. “This program is not just for older adults. We can serve anyone with arthritis.”
Hogeland said participants in the Enhance Fitness program are given a fitness assessment at the beginning of classes and another one after four months.
The early success of the Enhance Fitness program has led to development of a diabetes prevention program, to be implemented in January, she said. Its designed to help those diagnosed with prediabetes symptoms before it develops into full-blown diabetes.
Really helped his back
Salinan Dan Alderson, 68, has been participating the Enhance Fitness classes for only two weeks, but he already can feel a difference, especially in his back.
“Stretching helps my back,” he said. “I like the music, too.”
Alderson said he would recommend the Enhance Fitness program to anyone with arthritis.
“I was getting bored sitting in my chair eating chips,” he said. “Now I need to get my wife in it (the program).”
‘I feel more free now’
Salinan Lola Ginther, 80, said she has arthritis in nearly all her joints. Since she also is a caretaker for her husband, Ginther said the Enhance Fitness class has allowed her to take better care of him without hurting herself.
“It makes me feel better physically and mentally,” she said. “Flexibility, getting up and down, bending over. I feel more free now.”
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