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Using Ai Chi to help improve mobility & balance


Musculoskeletal pain and inflammation can become chronic problems for many people as they age, but some are finding that gentle, water-based Ai Chi exercises reduce pain and increase mobility and balance.

Katherine Jensen of Cove discovered Ai Chi while she was at Mountain Valley Fitness and Health in
La Grande for therapy to strengthen her knee and improve her gait following a tripping incident.

“That’s how I was introduced to the pool,” Jensen said. “Oh, I love this pool. It’s small, but it has the warm water. It’s very personal.”

Jensen observed instructor MaryAnn Zimmerman’s Ai Chi classes, which are held in the pool. She was intrigued by the exercise’s slow, meditative movements, similar to Tai Chi, so she signed up for the class.

“I’ve been taking Ai Chi for a couple of years now, and I just love it,” Jensen said. “We’d like to have a few more people join it too.”

Baby Boomers like Jensen are looking for ways to stay strong and active, and Ai Chi is one way to do it. According to several published studies, Ai Chi movements can benefit those with chronic pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, balance deficits, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.

On Mondays and Wednesdays at 11:15 a.m. Zimmerman leads the class through a sequence of movements that promote balance, flexibility and muscle tone. The exercise also stimulates concentration and deep breathing practices, Jensen said.

It took Jensen a couple of times, she said, to learn the movement routine without constantly watching the instructor, but now it comes second nature to her.

“For me it’s perfect because it’s slow, and it helps my muscles,” she said. “You have to balance, but the water supports you.”

Jensen said taking the Ai Chi classes has strengthened her muscles, reduced her arthritic pain, loosened up her stiff knee joint and improved her balance and stability. Best yet, she said, she doesn’t feel any pain doing the exercises because she is submerged in 92-degree water up to her shoulders.

“The deepest end of the pool is 5-1/2 feet,” she said. “I’m in my early 70s, but others of younger and older ages also enjoy the class.”

For those with mobility challenges, Jensen noted, it is easy and safe to enter the pool at the 3-foot level using the four gradual steps and handrails, and exiting the pool is just as simple.

Although Ai Chi is a discipline used in physical therapy at Mountain Valley Fitness and Health, Jensen said the class she attends “is more for the general public to enjoy this whole, beautiful process of movement in the water.”

Those interested may register or simply walk in and try one class for $10, Jensen said. Most participants wear a bathing suit or shorts and top. There is no footwear involved, and you can keep your face and hair dry. Mountain Valley Health and Fitness is located at 2519 Cove Ave., La Grande.

“Many times something this special would only be found in a large city,” Jensen said. “How lucky our area is to have this warm pool exercise opportunity.”