Like many of us at mid-life, I had amassed more than a few unwanted kilograms and had the makings of a good ‘spare tyre' around my waistline. It was the result of many years of slow neglect, helped along by a largely sedentary lifestyle, long hours in an office job, and a pretty unhealthy aversion to regular exercise. (I have always loathed that uncomfortable hot, sweaty and sticky feeling that accompanies intense exercise and gym work!) In recent years, however, I had taken to walking the dogs fairly regularly, but this tended to help me to maintain - rather than shed - my weight.
But then rheumatoid arthritis made its unwelcome appearance in my life. It was just a few short months after ending treatment for breast cancer, and I had been looking forward to celebrating my new-found health and vitality (and my 50th birthday) a few months later on the holiday of a lifetime to Paris.
The RA diagnosis was a long time coming ... after nearly six months of joint pain, swelling, poor mobility and ultimately difficulty managing the most basic daily activities. Walking became more painful for my tender feet and ankles with each day and, with the reduced mobility, I walked less each day ... until I finally stopped.
With two weeks to go to the start of our long-anticipated holiday, I had to face the fact that I was not well enough to travel ... there was just no way I could have withstood the 22 hours flying time from Australia when I was in so much pain. But then (almost overnight) the breakthrough; we finally had a diagnosis ... and the wonder drug Prednisone! Suddenly I could not only walk ... I could run! I had energy to burn ... and so, with just one week to take-off, I could start to seriously think about packing. (Paris, here I come!!)
But with many months of moderate doses of Prednisone came the additional kilos and the ‘spare tyre'. And each time I tapered the dosage down, the flares and pain would resurface. Again, walking fell by the wayside. But by now I was more aware of the need to wrestle back some control over the RA. I knew I had to somehow stay mobile and try to reduce the impact of excess weight, for the sake of my precious joints.
I sought advice from my physiotherapist about an exercise regime that would help me to maintain joint mobility, was low impact, and could also help me to improve my fitness and weight loss. She recommended aqua aerobics. I didn't know much about it, and I must confess to initially dismissing it as gentle exercise for the elderly. But I am thrilled to say that I couldn't have been more wrong!
I was fortunate that the aqua instructor at the local pool made the classes fun, while also giving us a great all-over workout. The added bonus was that she understood RA (her mother has the disease) and when the occasional exercise niggled (which sometimes happened in the early days), she was quick to suggest an alternative way to exercise that same body part without stressing the joint.