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Ease the discomfort of arthritis

Marilyn Hayes demonstrates a neck stretch to her arthritic exercise class at the Hudson YMCA. Hayes instructs the class three times a week. - Jace Frederick

Arthritis can make physical activity more difficult. In spite of that difficulty, exercise is an important part of staying healthy for men and women with arthritis. Even moderate physical activity can strengthen bones and muscles and increase joint flexibility, making it easier for arthritis sufferers to perform daily tasks.

There are different types of exercise to aid those suffering from arthritis. They include cardiovascular, strengthening and flexibility training.

At the Hudson YMCA, arthritic water exercise classes focus on improving flexibility.

"We focus primarily on flexibility," said Aquatics Director Breanna Burmester, "we work a lot with range of motion."

The classes are held at seven different times throughout the week. It is recommended flexibility exercises are performed every day, as they protect joints by reducing injury risk. Class instructor Marilyn Hayes sees the need for persistent workouts in her pupils.

"I have people that miss some classes that can't wait to come back, because they stiffen up," she said.

Hayes, who has dealt with arthritis herself, said the exercises are successful.

"I love doing this because I know that it works."

Flexibility exercises warm the body and relax the muscles. The process is enhanced by working through the exercises in the warm pool water, said Burmester.

It is important to work all parts of the body when you have arthritis to keep everything loose, something Hayes makes sure her students accomplish. Her class does numerous activities, including breathing exercises, stretching of most all body parts, and balancing maneuvers.

"This class does everything from the neck all the way to the toes."

While exercising, however, she said to make sure not to strain yourself by overstepping your physical limits.

"We tell them to go at their own pace. They should only do what's comfortable to them," said Burmester.

"Before you begin any exercise, you should consult your physician to see if the exercise is appropriate for you. You may even want to see a physical therapist for an assessment of your specific exercise and joint protection needs," said the Arthritis Foundation's web site.

Once you're comfortable doing at least 15 continuous minutes of flexibility exercises, you're likely ready to add strengthening and cardiovascular exercises to your routine. A popular choice is yoga, a flexibility workout that also strengthens the muscles.