As people grow older, the need to stay active and healthy remains a priority a priority for many, even as effects of aging take their toll. To keep people active longer in life, Denison’s Waterloo Pool has promoted water aerobics as a way to exercise, without the impact of conventional exercises.

As people grow older, the need to stay active and healthy remains a priority a priority for many, even as effects of aging take their toll. To keep people active longer in life, Denison’s Waterloo Pool has promoted water aerobics as a way to exercise, without the impact of conventional exercises.


Dori Smith, who has taught water aerobics at Waterloo Pool for the past three years, described the exercises as a "fountain of youth." Smith teaches a water aerobics class of about 30 students on weekday mornings. The class is affectionately nicknamed Rusty Hinges. While the classes can have students in their 30s, the majority are older.


"We have a lot of older adults that come in," said Smith. "I call them our older senior kids."


Smith said the water helps alleviate some of the problems associated with traditional exercises.


"It takes pressure and body weight off of bones and joints and allows them to move freely in the water," said Smith. Outside of the supportive effect of the water, the density gives natural resistance, allowing the students to do less work but receive a more vigorous workout at the same time. Smith said these effects can also be beneficial to pregnant women, and obese individuals.


Dr. Duke Carlson, a family medicine specialist, said as people age, arthritis tends to develop in the back, and cartilage in joints tends to deteriorate, causing pain. Carlson said this can lead to a "vicious cycle" where the pain prevents people from exercising, which leads to muscle deterioration and more pain. Water exercises, Carlson said, are an excellent way to maintain activity without causing pain.


"The loss of cartilage is mitigated by the buoyancy of the water," said Carlson.


Melba Rice, who has lived in Denison for over 60 years, was surprised during a class this week when her classmates arrived with flowers, birthday cards and cake to celebrate her 93rd birthday. Rice started attending water aerobics classes in 1997 as a way of recovering from a leg injury. She recalls telling herself, "If I can get in the water, I can get better."


"How many of us could jump up and touch our elbow to our knee on dry land?" asked Rice.


Looking back at where she started, Rice described herself as the "token old person" in the beginning. In the 17 years since, she said she feels she has made many friends who mutually look out for each other. If one misses a class, the rest of the class will check in on them. Rice said she feels sense of community from the program, where even the lifeguards know everyone by name.


"We always have a lot of fun," said Rice. "I feel that laughter is good for the heart."


Rice’s influence in the group shows: As Smith teaches the group gathered for the class, she leads them in a series of balance exercises that have been nicknamed after Rice, who introduced the exercises to the group.