Healthy Concepts
Bonnie Murry

Bonnie Murry

Bonnie Murray is a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, certified in Adaptive Aquatics Interventions with multi-disabilities. She’s been at the Aquatic Center at CP since 2012 and works with patrons with neuromuscular disorders, post-trauma rehabilitation needs, pain management and personal fitness goals.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 19:26

Breaking down exercise barriers

Whether you have heard it from your doctor, from a friend or family member, or saw a late night infomercial, we all know that regular exercise is good for us. It can improve mood, lower blood pressure, ensure a good night’s sleep, help manage weight and a host of other benefits. However, for those diagnosed with a medical condition, starting or maintaining a regular exercise program may seem out of reach.

Medical conditions like stroke, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis can make people feel as if they are sidelined from exercise. There may be a tendency to fatigue quickly, feel weak and unsteady or even be anxious about exercise due to fears of falling or suffering a setback, so consulting your doctor before starting to exercise is important. But perhaps the question to ask isn’t if you should exercise, but rather how you should exercise.

It’s amazing to see how warm water coupled with determination and a positive attitude can break down so many of the barriers that limit a successful exercise program. Warm water exercise can open the door for many who feel isolated due to a medical condition and its imposed limitations and offers several benefits.

Stretching is easier

Daily stretching is beneficial for everyone; however, it’s of vital importance to those with a medical condition. Only when your body is adequately stretched can you begin to successfully work on gaining strength. Stretching helps manage spasticity, tone and loss of range of motion (ROM) and warm water enables you to increase the elasticity of tight muscles, utilizing rhythmical active ROM exercises. These stretches are performed by moving through water in a slow, fluent and relaxed manner, which alleviates pain and tightness in targeted muscle areas of the arms, legs and torso.

The warm water alternative

Traditional land-based exercise programs can prove to be a challenge for many. Warm water provides an alternative environment to advance further in a strengthening program. Exercising in water reduces your body weight up to 90 percent. By alleviating gravity, those with poor muscle control and limited endurance can increase the number of repetitions or length of time each exercise is performed.

Water also provides a supportive cushion around an individual that allows them to focus on core strengthening, standing/balance and gait training exercises without the fear of falling. Barbells and hand/ankle weights may be added to achieve the desired level of resistance to maximize progress. I believe if we can successfully educate people about proper body mechanics and safe ways to exercise in water, it will carry over to their everyday lives, and their ability to perform tasks at home with more ease and self-confidence.

Brain training

Whether our bodies are slowing down due to age or a medical condition, warm water therapy is an extremely effective avenue to retrain the brain. Many neurologic disorders cause brain impulses to stop firing correctly and therefore do not communicate with the body as they once did. If “rewiring” of the neural pathways can be facilitated, then you can regain movement.

Unpredictable Movement Command is a technique used in water to target the use of multiple brain areas simultaneously. It consists of movement patterns being performed with quickly changing or random combinations (e.g. small-big, start-stop and directional changes). This fosters the brain’s ability to multitask, improve somatic awareness (feel where body is in space), self-righting reactions (needed to prevent falls) and overall coordination.

What to consider before diving in

The ultimate goal is to keep moving. Check into one-on-one aquatic therapy and specialty classes offered at warm water facilities in your area, and don’t forget to plan ahead for your mobility needs. You may want to inquire about accessible parking, entrances and locker rooms. Bringing a family member, friend or attendant on your first visit will help ensure that you have positive experience.

Once in water, you will see firsthand how it gives those with mobility impairments due to a medical condition a sense of self-empowerment, a reason to smile and the courage to keep pushing past preconceived exercise barriers, to live again with confidence and a new twinkle in their eye! 

Friday, 29 December 2017 03:17

Warm water therapy benefits may surprise you

In January of 2014, Karl noticed numbness in his left foot. Soon, the numbness increased and progressed up his leg. After months of testing, and while paralysis was setting in, a MRI of his upper spine revealed a tumor in his spinal column. In September, Karl underwent a seven-hour surgery to have it removed. His prognosis of being able to walk again was mixed at best.

With walking on his own the ultimate goal, Karl started with traditional physical therapy, but the progress he was hoping for wasn’t realized. He then worked with a physical trainer at the YMCA where he focused on a program aimed at regaining muscle strength and included the use of their standard pool as well as land-based exercises. After two years, Karl had reached a plateau with his progress, so when his trainer made the decision to change careers, he decided it was a good time to give warm water aquatic therapy a try.

When Karl first came to the pool he had little feeling in his lower body. We needed to start with the basics, which included building core strength and muscle re-education. Warm water therapy is great for this because it relaxes your muscles enough to be able to be stretched, and working in water slows your movement enough to give extra time for the brain to communicate with the muscles. Rebuilding muscle memory is the essential building block for muscle strengthening and the overall recovery process.

After a year of working in warm water, Karl has made solid progress. His muscle control has improved, he can walk up the pool ramp using handrails to steady his balance and his confidence has soared. He is also able to complete some land-based exercises that he wasn’t able to do before.

In addition to specialized cases like Karl’s, warm water aquatic therapy can be helpful for a host of other medical issues including joint and chronic pain, muscle weakness, sports injuries, pre- and post-surgical recovery, orthopedic disorders and neurological diagnoses.

The key with warm water is that it provides muscle relaxation. Once the muscles are relaxed, people often find they are able to do more in the water with less pain. Decreased muscle tension also increases the ability to stretch muscles, which means you are able to try and be successful with new exercises and in turn can increase your heart rate and overall cardiovascular health.

Working in the water also helps you “buy back” gravity. I start many of my clients in the deep end of the pool, where they are completely buoyant. As they progress, we work toward the shallow end, reintroducing a bit of gravity each time as they build adequate strength. Doing this allows clients to work at their own pace and progress when they are ready and able to.

Another advantage of warm water therapy is three dimensional access to the client. Instead of working only one area at a time as you lie on a table, in the pool, I can move more freely around a client, working with multiple areas at the same time.

If you are considering physical therapy, or are looking for alternate options to further your progress, talk to your doctor or therapist about warm water aquatic therapy. Like Karl, it might be your game changer, too. 


It’s the time of year when, in between turkey, stuffing and holiday cookies, resolutions start entering our thoughts. While many of us make resolutions with the best of intentions, unfortunately, not many of us are able to keep them. No matter if you are looking to start anew, make a positive change or push yourself to the next level, the keys to success are not only setting realistic goals, but having an action plan to be successful. For cold Wisconsin winters, aquatic exercise can play a helpful role.

Resolution for weight loss

Aside from the pain relieving effects of water, lap swimming and water aerobics slim the body better than most land based workouts and reduce the risk of overheating during exercise. And because 90 percent of weight is eliminated when submerged to the neck, deep water exercise classes and aqua jogging exert less pressure on bones and joints. For these very reasons people who are overweight have an easier time committing to aquatic exercise because they can work out for longer periods without feeling fatigued or distressed. If you are new to exercise, start slowly with 30 minutes of low-impact exercise like swimming or water walking, using light weights for toning.

Resolution for taking your fitness to the next level

Cross-training is ideal for anyone, whether you are a beginner who wants to get into shape or an experienced exerciser (runner, bicyclist) looking to take fitness to the next level. Cross-training is truly the backbone of any well-developed exercise program, and it emphasizes swimming/water exercise as a key low-impact workout for injury prevention, greater fitness in competition and during the off-season, rejuvenation, and enhanced motivation. By keeping exercise interesting, interchangeable and enjoyable, you are less likely to derail from your fitness resolution.

One of the most common mistakes people make with exercise is repeating the same routine week after week. However, to continue to improve your fitness level and reap all the benefits of regular exercise, you need to keep your body guessing. For example, swimming one mile in a pool is equal to running four miles on land, making it a great endurance alternative not only for when wind chills near zero, it also helps you avoid overuse injuries. By varying your workouts and using different muscle groups, you will reach a higher level of fitness:

“No tree can bear fruit in all seasons, and no athlete can train hard throughout the entire year.”

Resolution to improve your quality of life

Ring in the New Year with a personal resolution to increase your health and fitness!

Getting in shape, losing weight and building muscle not only helps prevent certain medical conditions they are also key components in treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.

Water is also a wonderful “equalizer.” Even if you have a physical limitation or health condition, there are numerous aquatic classes and workout options available to match your individual exercise needs.

No matter your personal goals, be sure to go beyond simply making the resolution and develop a realistic plan that will help you get there. If you are not sure where to start, sign up for a session or two with a personal trainer or adaptive aquatics instructor to learn the ropes and keep you focused on achieving your fitness goals.

Of course if you have a medical condition, it’s important to ask your doctor or physical therapist about starting a new workout program before you dive in. Once you are cleared for aquatic exercise, take your workouts to the water. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, ease pain symptoms, take your fitness to the next level or regain independence, the pool is the perfect place to start.

And, if you have a friend or loved one that you want to support, search your community for pools that offer a gift certificate. Spice up your holidays with this perfect stocking stuffer. Maybe you can even join them! Happy New Year!

Approximately 100 million people in the U.S. live with some form of chronic pain. Chronic pain is a condition where pain lingers long beyond the time of normal healing, lasting anywhere from a few months to many years. Pain levels may range from mild to disabling and intensity changes frequently.

Chronic pain can affect anyone. Those suffering deal with long-term pain and discomfort that can be a result of a sports injury or accident, or a diagnosed condition such as fibromyalgia, diabetes or multiple sclerosis. No matter the reason, the outcome is the same; the person is dealing with so much pain that they are often sidelined from living the life they want.

Chronic pain sufferers often get into a cycle of pain they can’t get out of. They are limited in their activity, which means doing any exercise or physical therapy can be difficult or impossible to complete. However, it’s those very exercises that aid them on the road to recovery.

Exploring warm water exercise can be a way to break out of the pain cycle by providing an environment where you can move and exercise with little or no pain. Water’s buoyancy allows individuals with chronic pain to move with a lower energy effort (energy preservation) while still increasing muscle strength and endurance. People suffering from ongoing pain need to stay in motion so as not to aggravate their symptoms of fatigue and muscle deconditioning.

Even if your pain is due to a recent injury or surgery, aquatic exercise can assist in the recovery more effectively than land-based exercise. Since you are not bearing your full weight in the water, you won’t be stressing the very joints and bones you are trying to rehabilitate. Many athletes rely on water therapy to heal hip, knee and leg injuries; those with spinal cord and brain injuries also find that water provides an ideal environment for full-body exercise without risk of falling or re-injury.

Relaxation is another important aspect of controlling chronic pain. Tense muscles, racing thoughts and worry are common symptoms reported by people with chronic pain. Learning to relax is a useful skill and has shown significant health benefits. The warm water of the pool brings relief by providing sensory stimulation to the entire body, relaxing both the nervous system and muscles, thus enhancing pain relief. Deep breathing exercises incorporated into water classes will strengthen the respiratory system and enhance blood circulation. Water also provides a playful environment for socialization and stress relief. Remember, it is not only through exercise, but also laughing, that release endorphins to the brain that reduce pain and help heal the body.

Thus, many people in chronic pain find water exercise programs positive, rewarding and mood enhancing. Ultimately, this builds hope and provides the motivation to continue staying active!

It’s not uncommon for individuals with chronic pain to experience feelings of loss, grief and helplessness. Accepting your condition is the most important step forward you can take. Acceptance does not mean you give up hope, but rather, refuse to let the pain dictate your life and activities.

Water provides the perfect environment to focus on your abilities, accomplishments and normalcy while participating in a variety of exercise programs with little or no pain. Participating in a group water exercise class is also a perfect social outlet to help restore self-confidence, and can serve as an additional support group outside of family and friends. I’ve seen many class participants leave a class with a smile on their face and a sense of satisfaction when they first realize water exercise is the very hope they needed to enjoy their life once again — in spite of pain!

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among U.S. adults and can be both a physically and emotionally painful experience. Most people start to feel some pain or stiffness in their bodies and joints, which can increase in severity over time. Everyday tasks like walking, climbing stairs and grasping objects can be physically draining, and the inability to move your body and perform the way you want can be frustrating.

One of the best ways to help deal with arthritic symptoms and pain is by participating in a regular warm water exercise program. I typically see patrons with numerous arthritic conditions including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus and gout attending water classes or independent aquatic exercise programs because it is a form of exercise they can comfortably do while limiting the risk of injury.

People with arthritis benefit most from a balanced program that includes a variety of exercises. There are three main types of exercises that can be completed in the water and should be included in a program: range of motion (flexibility), strengthening and endurance.


It’s important to move joints through their full range of motion (ROM) every day to maintain flexibility. However, many do not realize that daily activities such as housework, shopping and cooking only work joints in one, often repetitive, direction.

Completing ROM exercises in water provides the ideal gravity-reduced environment to gently stretch painful and swollen joints in all directions. In shoulder deep water, about 90 percent of the body’s weight is removed from the joints, making these exercises easier, yet still challenging for those with arthritis.


Strong muscles help keep joints stable and comfortable. Completing strength exercises in water lets the buoyancy decrease joint compression while providing ten times the resistance of air. This allows you to work more muscles during exercise and increase muscle strength with minimal joint aggravation. Buoyancy also reduces the risk and fear of falling, so you can walk and move in water with more confidence than on land.


Sustained movements like water walking strengthen your heart, make your lungs more efficient and give you the stamina to work out longer. Swimming and exercising in warm water supports the body so there’s less stress on your hips, knees, feet and spine. This type of exercise can take time, so in order to gradually build up endurance, incorporate endurance exercises for 20-30 minutes per day, at least three times per week.

Some days, I see patrons who are experiencing a lot of discomfort, so they will opt for the warmth of the whirlpool instead of their exercise plan and that’s OK. Warm water is not only helpful in relieving joint pain and relaxing muscles, but just by being submerged in water, your body will obtain these hidden health benefits of hydrostatic pressure:

  1. Speeds up metabolism (burns more calories).
  2. Increases HDL, “good cholesterol.”
  3. Decreases blood pressure.
  4. Improves circulation (imagine wearing an oversized compression stocking that keeps blood moving throughout your body, reducing edema/swelling).

Other things to look for

It is important to look for aquatic classes that not only provide benefits through exercise, but also offer a non-competitive atmosphere and a fun, social component. Let’s face it, if you are not excited about a class, you aren’t going to go. Look for variety in classes as well like water tai chi or water yoga that help with flexibility and focus on deep breathing. The buddy system is another incentive. Whether it is a joint motion class or something as basic as water walking, attending with a friend or family member can keep you motivated.

When you incorporate aquatic exercise into your daily routine and accept it as a way of life, it can decrease depression, improve self-esteem and give you a better sense of well-being. Start taking control of your arthritis today, contact your local pool and find an exercise class that inspires you!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016 03:50

Aquatic exercise: The benefits of making waves

Meet Mauree

When Mauree woke up on May 14, 2013, she was planning to go to kickboxing class. But when she tried to get out of bed, she realized she had no feeling in her legs.

Mauree was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, a rare neuro-immune disorder. Mauree explains it as a type of injury where her brain was unable to communicate with the nerves in her legs due to an inflammation in her spinal cord. She was paralyzed from the waist down. After 10 weeks in the hospital and a rehab facility, Mauree went home using a wheelchair.

Mauree’s physical therapist suggested looking into aquatic exercise to help with her recovery process. I first started working with Mauree at the Aquatic Center at CP in September of 2013. I completed an evaluation of Mauree, developed exercises and started working with her one on one every week. When Mauree first started, she wasn’t able to stand up in the water. But now, she can stand on her own without having to hold on to anything and she has started taking additional classes to help build strength and balance. Out of the water, Mauree is able to walk with the use of canes or a special walker and her continued progress with walking in the pool has carried over into increased independence in her daily life.

While Mauree’s story is somewhat unique, it does illustrate how aquatic exercise can be beneficial as part of a recovery or rehabilitation plan for issues like arthritis, hip or knee replacement, fibromyalgia or neuromuscular disorders. But let’s not forget that getting in the water is also a great way to maintain your overall health as well.

Benefits of aquatic exercise

Aquatic exercise provides many health benefits while being gentle on our joints and body, and is a great way to be proactive toward maintaining your health. Aquatic exercise can help improve muscle strength and balance, elevate your heart rate, increase endurance, provide greater joint flexibility, reduce pain and fatigue and can even help you sleep better. The pool is also a great way for many adults to slow down the loss of muscle that can occur as we age.

In addition, aquatic exercise is not as intimidating as other forms of exercise. For many — especially older adults — the thought of getting into an exercise routine can be daunting. They are worried about coordination, suffering an injury or just getting their body to do what they want it to do. Aquatic exercise is low impact, which makes people feel safe and comfortable while still being challenged, be it through group classes, independent exercise or one-on-one time with an instructor.

But perhaps the most unexpected benefit many people see is that aquatic exercise provides an important connection. Participating in a weekly class provides the opportunity for people to become more connected with others, and many find that the added energy aquatic exercise brings helps get them out into the community more often and engage in activities they may not have had the confidence to do before.

Jump on in!

If you have been looking for a way to get more active but haven’t quite found your niche, or are looking for something new, give aquatic exercise a try. It’s a great way to maintain and improve your health while providing lots of fun options to keep it exciting and challenging. It’s a good form of exercise for people at just about any fitness level and there are many places in our area that provide classes. You just need to find the class or program that makes the right “splash” for you.

Subscribe Today
Community Partners Directory
Find a Complimentary Copy
Community Calendar