Exercise classes a stretch for some

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There is an upbeat aura as the Kinesis for MS class begins at Servus Credit Union Place Thursday mornings. Most members of the class have attended for years, so they know each other well. There is a sense of camaraderie as they chit chat about their week, about their kids, about presidential elections in the U.S. They also talk about one of the biggest problems each of them faces – the terrible fatigue caused by the disease they have in common – multiple sclerosis.

Before the conversation turns too negative, trainer Jasmine Van Staveren has everyone up on their feet doing modified stretching exercises.

“This is power training and that means getting them so they can get up off a chair. It’s about getting them so they can do functional things. Getting them so they are independent. Getting them to move,” Van Staveren said after the class was finished.

And move they do. The half-dozen participants rotate around the room in a clock-wise fashion as they take turns reaching up to grab pulleys or turn sideways against the wall to try the different kinesis machines. The equipment offers some resistance but at the same time participants have something to hold on to, to feel secure against falling.

Ivy Witoshynski began attending the class eight years ago on her doctor’s recommendation, but it took a long time until she felt at ease doing the exercises.

“It was awful at first. It’s not something you learn overnight because your body is doing something new. Your body has to learn,” she said, adding that perhaps at first she was mentally resisting the exercise concept.

“I thought my body was never going to improve, that I had MS and that was that. But I have improved and even my doctor is amazed at my flexibility,” Witoshynski said.

The participants agree they have “good days and bad days.” Some days they have less balance. Some days they are simply more fatigued, but they always feel they can move better after class is over.

“Some days it’s like you are a stool with three legs,” said Cam Horn. “It is a complicated disease and fatigue is part of it. But it’s connecting the brain to the muscles. It wakens our brain to the muscles.”

Many of the class members head home and rest on the couch, but the day following the exercises is the best one in their whole week.

“There’s a delayed reaction. You feel like a new $10 bill the day afterwards,” Horn said.

Some class members spoke up about being shy and even reluctant at first to attend the Kinesis Class for MS, even though their doctors and physiotherapists recommended it. They admitted that they had to arrive at their own place of acceptance before they could attend.

“I didn’t want to surround myself with cripples. I didn’t want to be around MS. But I found people to talk to here. I found people who were working for the same things,” said Debbie Taylor.

"I take my vacation days and use them to come to this class," she added.

Special populations

Van Staveren also instructs other "special population" classes, which Servus Credit Union Place offers both by registration and on a drop-in basis.

“The special population classes are very rewarding. It’s helping people to enjoy a better quality of life,” she said.

The fitness centre offers pre-natal and post-natal classes as well as a variety of drop-in aquacise classes and fitness classes as well as yoga for both those with chronic diseases and for seniors. There are even classes for people who have recently had surgery. In the new year a class will be offered for those people who have Parkinson’s disease. All instructors have special training so they can work with these populations with special needs.

"By exercising regularly, I am not giving in to MS. It’s about being smart about it so I can have the best life I can have doing what’s good for me," Taylor said.

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About Author

Susan Jones has been a freelance writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2009, following a 20-year career at the St. Albert Gazette. Susan writes about homes, gardens, community events and people.