Jo Sharp leads a recent aqua aerobics class at the Rec-Plex
There are many physical-fitness benefits to aqua aerobics.
You can learn to overcome psychological obstacles, too. Just ask Mike Barton, a student in Jo Sharp’s twice-a-week class at St. Peters Rec-Plex.
“First of all, I’m afraid of the water, so coming here was a big struggle,” said Mike, a St. Charles resident who has participated in aqua aerobics classes for two years. “Having Jo for an instructor, she’s very patient with me and helps me learn how to do it right. I actually look forward to coming now. This has helped me get in the best shape I’ve been in 30 years.”
Under Jo’s tutelage, Mike said his aquaphobia is “going away.”
“I’m very comfortable here,” he said. “Joan (Cooper, a fellow student) is trying to encourage me to do a class down in the deep end. I haven’t done that yet, but maybe someday.”
Jo, who has led aqua aerobics classes at the Rec-Plex since 2015, said helping students rediscover their confidence in the water, or perhaps establish it for the first time, is one of her priorities.
“A couple of them, on their first day, there’s just hesitancy in the water,” Jo said. “A lot of times, people learn to swim when they’re 5 or 6. They come to aqua aerobics class 40 or 50 years later, and it’s been a long time. They either forget (how to be comfortable in the water) or a traumatic experience from their childhood comes back.
“But they learn to balance themselves and get comfortable in (the water). … I reassure them: ‘It’s OK. There’s a wall here, I’m here, you have a floatation device close by.’ It’s not as bad as they think it’s going to be. I try to get them to stay calm and remember to breathe.”
Ella Hazelwood, a native of Italy who lives in St. Charles with her husband, was like Mike: Water was something she avoided, not embraced.
But Ella understood the importance of learning how to swim. She didn’t want to plant the seeds of aquaphobia in her 7-year-old son.
“I was transferring that fear to him, so I took a couple of lessons and learned to swim,” she said. “Since then, I enjoy the water. This is the best exercise. You’re able to do all kinds of exercise.
“I’ve tried other exercise, but in the water, you don’t feel your weight and you exercise for the full hour, which is amazing.”
Jo is like a drill sergeant, only much nicer, as she stands near the pool and leads her class through a workout. Typically, about 20 students participate, the majority of them in their 50s through 80s, although some are younger.
“We have a lot of fun,” said Jo, who lives in St. Peters. “We incorporate weights, (resistance) bands, noodles and other things. I like adding strength aspects to my classes because as people age, bone density seems to get away from us. So, adding strength (exercises) into the classes as well as getting their heart rates up is a big benefit.”
Jo said people are attracted to aqua aerobics because it’s easier on the joints, many of which have caused problems for the students.
“A lot of times, people come to aqua aerobics because running, jogging and impact just isn’t for them,” Jo said. “The water takes a lot of that impact away from the joints, which is great for a lot of things. But also, you still have the resistance from the water itself. You’re not missing out on all the benefits of having resistance against you; it’s just minus the impact.”
Aqua aerobics classes provide a good workout and time to socialize
Mike said the class has helped him become more flexible. Sometimes, he’s able to bend over and touch his toes. Before, that was not possible.
“I can do things in the pool that I can’t do on land,” Mike said. “I have some bad knee joints, but I can do things with them in (the pool).”
Mike’s classmate, Joan, agreed.
“I had knee replacement (surgery) a few years ago and I found jogging in the water helped with my range of motion so much and (improved) my balance after having that surgery done,” she said. “I would tell anyone who has had knee surgery, ‘Come in and do a few water classes.’”
Joan, a resident of Cottleville, takes a class with Jo in the morning and one with instructor Christia Jones in the evening — a total of four workouts a week.
“I’m not a good swimmer, so this fits me because I like the water even though I’m not a good swimmer,” Joan said. “Jo and Christia really push you and want you to be the best you can be. … This keeps me moving, and that’s so important. This works with my muscles and my bones.”
Joan said camaraderie makes the exercise enjoyable.
“There’s a lot of laughter at our end of the pool,” she said. “What’s great about Jo and the class is it fits all abilities. If you’re not moving as fast as somebody else, that’s OK. And if you’re moving faster, that’s OK, too. You can work at the pace that you need to and what fits your body best.”
Ella, despite her lingering fear of water, takes five aqua aerobics classes each week, including three in the deep end. She explained she’s trying to lose weight and improve an issue with high blood pressure.
“My energy and my mood have really changed,” Ella said. “I’m happier now and I’m able to move faster. I have more energy during the day to do other stuff. It benefits me. It’s been incredible.”
Ella compliments Jo, who she describes as “amazing.”
“She always comes here with a smile. She makes you feel good and she motivates you,” Ella said.
Jo said her work doesn’t feel like a job. Joan Cooper (left) and Mike Barton work out with resistance bands
“It’s just me hanging out with some friends around the pool,” she said. “The biggest thing is I try to keep them moving. “I like to keep them on their toes, keep it light, keep it fun.”
For more information on classes at the Rec-Plex, CLICK HERE.