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Water aerobics buoy spirits of women seeking to stay healthy

Neecee Victorian has some fun while doing water aerobics at Dolphin Scuba Club in Sacramento last month. She’s part of the program Linking to a Healthy Lifestyle: It Starts with Me.
Neecee Victorian has some fun while doing water aerobics at Dolphin Scuba Club in Sacramento last month. She’s part of the program Linking to a Healthy Lifestyle: It Starts with Me. lsterling@sacbee.com

Arlene Kilson and exercise have always had a stormy relationship. Kilson knows she should work out to control her weight and stay healthy, but her schedule is jampacked and the physical demands of exercise cause pain in her joints.

“It’s always been a struggle,” said Kilson, 49. “Big time.”

Kilson has finally found a calorie-killing endeavor she loves – water aerobics. For the past month or so, she has spent Sunday afternoons in the pool with about 20 other women – kicking, twirling, bending and performing various other fat-burning moves.

The class is sponsored by the Sacramento chapter of The Links, a nonprofit organization of African-American professional women dedicated to friendship and service. To encourage fitness and nutrition as weapons against diabetes, hypertension and other health problems in the African-American community, leaders of the group last year launched a healthy eating and exercise program.

“The health challenges in our community are tremendous, and we know that exercise is a huge help in preventing diabetes and other diseases,” said Gina Warren, a pharmacist and Links leader. “But a lot of people can’t afford a gym membership, and working out is not familiar to them. This program was designed to get them started on their journey.”

Dubbed “Linking to a Healthy Lifestyle: It Starts With Me,” the program began with healthy cooking classes. Led by a dietitian, the sessions covered everything from the benefits of fresh vs. canned foods to the importance of monitoring sodium levels.

Next, the women were invited to work out with a personal trainer at Game-Fit, a gym in Del Paso Heights. At first, Warren recalled, “they could barely do toe touches. But by the end the trainer had them doing wind sprints. It was amazing.”

For many heavier women, however, those workouts were too rigorous, causing pain in their joints. Worried that their frustration would cause them to quit, Warren hatched a new plan – water aerobics.

“I knew that if we got them in the water, where they would feel light, buoyant and in a social group with people they knew, it would be uplifting and keep them coming back,” Warren said.

For the last month, Warren has paid for an hour of pool time each week at Dolphin Scuba Center on El Camino Avenue, and the response has been overwhelming.

One recent Sunday, Barbara Nash, a retired physician and Links member, led a one-hour workout in the shallow end of the pool. During a typical routine, students held hands while circling, prompting one to joke that they were synchronized swimmers.

Initially, Kilson held on tightly to the handrail, confessing that she was a bit apprehensive since she hadn’t been in a pool in 20 years.

But now?

“I absolutely love it,” she said. “It’s so nice being in the water – it’s a good workout, and I get tired, but it’s so easy on my joints.”

The class also gives her a sense that she is doing something positive for her health: “I’ve got diabetes in my family, so that’s what I’m trying to avoid.”

To continue offering the class through summer, Links leaders are asking Book of Dreams readers to help pay for pool rental fees.

“Most of these women are low-income and unfortunately, none of them owns a pool,” Warren said. “So this is the only way we know how to keep these transformational classes going.”

Needed: Money to pay for rental fees for water aerobics classes.

Cost: $1,200

2014 BOOK OF DREAMS

For more than 25 years, The Sacramento Bee’s Book of Dreams has helped people and organizations in our community realize their dreams. Their needs can be as simple as a pair of shoes for someone who is homeless; holiday baskets for low-income families or a shiny, new bike for a child. Whatever the dream, you can help by making a donation today.

All donations are tax deductible and none of the money received will be used for administrative costs. The Book of Dreams fund is administered by the Sacramento Region Community Foundation. If you donate online, the Region Foundation will appear on your statement.

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If you have additional questions, please call the Book of Dreams line at (916) 556-5667. Donations will be accepted through Jan. 16.

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