by Central Washington Senior times

If you stop by the Yakima Family YMCA swimming pool on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, you’ll be glad you did. Music is playing friends are chatting and laughter is in the air. And if you don’t keep your distance, you’re likely to get doused. Socializing with friends is a close second, while exercise is almost an afterthought. But while the focus of the class is on enjoyment, there’s no doubt that swimming three days a week is making a difference for the participants, many of whom are seniors. “I come three times a week, every week because it keeps me going,” said Laurie Sandberg, 64, who has been battling multiple sclerosis for the past 30 years. “Moving around is the most important thing for me, and doing this has helped me so much. I’m pretty dedicated.” Sandberg has been attending the class for about four years, while others have been attending since it started back in 1979. It is free to YMCA members and follows the American Osteopathic Association guidelines to help those suffering from arthritis.

Mendoza has been teaching the class held from 2 to 3p.m. three days a week since November, taking over for former i8nstructor Alex Hull. The first instructor was Sharon Crowell, who worked at the YMCA until 1994. Even after all these years, some students still remember how Crowell influenced their lives and their well being. “I didn’t learn how to play until I was 50,and Sharon had a lot to do with that,” Said Jean Woodcock, 80, a YMCA water aerobics participant since 1985.

The students sometimes forget that they’re even exercising. “We’re moving around and that feels good, but we’re having so much fun that time just flies.” Said Woodcock. The physical benefits are just motivating for people with health conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and MS. The class also helps build strength and flexibility. Most of the students are women, but some men. Water aerobics has been shown to contribute dramatically to people’s physical well-being, especially those who are aging.

The low-impact shallow-end exercises focus on single joint manipulation and are designed to keep the body moving. Socialization seems to be just as important to the class participants as the exercise portion. Many seniors don’t have a lot of chances to interact with other people, and this class gives them that outlet.

Drop-ins are welcome for $6 per class and punch cards can be purchased for $35 (good for 10 visits; no expiration date). As an added incentive, the punch cards even come with a free punch.