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Fitness instructor at Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center exercises away arthritis pain

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Fitness instructor at Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center exercises away arthritis pain
Fitness instructor Cheryl McDermott (left) has been leading exercise classes at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center since 1995, helping participants like Elzira Costa (right) manage their arthritis by moving to the beat of some of Motown’s biggest hits. (Photo: courtesy of Cook Marketing Consultants)

Who can resist moving to the beat of an old Motown song? Not the more than 30 seniors who meet at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to gently exercise for an hour.
From tapping toes to snapping fingers, class members march, stretch, bend and move every part of their bodies. Most have arthritis, but it is not apparent, because they move eagerly to the rhythm of the music — and to their instructor’s encouraging directions.
Their fitness instructor is Cheryl McDermott, who has been leading exercise classes at the Reggie Lewis center since it opened in 1995. For the past eight years, Cheryl has led members of the center’s senior program in the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program, a regimen designed especially for people with arthritis that combines exercise, health education and relaxation.
McDermott knows firsthand the importance of exercise in arthritis control — she herself has arthritis in her knees.
“I keep moving because it truly lessens the pain,” McDermott says. “I have discovered over the years that if I don’t regularly exercise, my knees will become pretty stiff and sore.”
Experience has taught her, however, that moderation is the key.
“I have learned to listen to my body,” she says. “And if I feel I am overdoing an exercise activity, I’ll modify it, because you don’t want to feel pain for more than two hours after exercising.”
McDermott’s exercise class is never dull or repetitious, because she incorporates so many interesting and fun exercise routines from the Arthritis Foundation course.
The class members do many of their exercises from a seated position, stretching and bending. They use light weights to strengthen muscles. Some of the exercises are complicated, challenging minds along with bodies, and eliciting laughs from the women as they try to follow McDermott’s instructions under her watchful eye.
McDermott and her class are not alone in appreciating the benefits of moderate physical activity for people with arthritis. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently issued a recommendation that people with arthritis should try to exercise at least 150 minutes a week (30 to 60 minutes a session, three to five times a week).
“Regular physical activity also helps people with arthritis or other rheumatic conditions affecting the joints by improving pain management, function, and quality of life,” the department’s recommendation says.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in partnership with the Arthritis Foundation, is working to spread this message with a campaign called “Physical Activity: The Arthritis Pain Reliever.” And it’s not only formal exercise that the agencies are recommending, though the CDC particularly suggests low-impact, moderate exercise like walking, swimming and biking — even everyday activities like dancing, gardening and washing the car count.
Physical activity certainly works for McDermott’s class. Like many others in the Reggie Lewis group, Elzira Costa has been able to cut back on her arthritis medication because of her commitment to regular exercise. And she has also gained a benefit from the class she didn’t expect, developing quite a social life with the other members of the class.
“We all talk about interesting things, like the most recent trips we’ve been on, and I can’t wait to come and hear the news,” Costa says.
To join McDermott’s class at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, contact Erica Rivers by phone at 617-541-2451 or via e-mail at erivers@rcc.mass.edu. To get a brochure on physical activity or answers to other arthritis-related questions, contact the Arthritis Foundation Massachusetts Chapter by phone at 800-766-9449 or via e-mail at info.ma@arthritis.org.