WellnessWednesday: How to Rev Up Your Workout Without Breaking a Sweat

I crossed a new fitness threshold last week when I added Tabata — a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) protocol — to my water workout. My 30 minute workout not only boosted my cardiovascular system, but also strengthened my core, my arms, and my legs. And it put me on Cloud Nine for the rest of the morning.

And, of course I sweated (pardon the clickbait!), but being in the water happily masked that fact and kept me cool while I amped up the volume on my workout.

How HIIT Works

You’ll be working at a very intense level and then backing off for a slower recovery period, followed by another round of high intensity.

Kara Meyer Robinson, Web MD

When I was a certified fitness instructor, I incorporated HIIT segments in the cardio portions of my classes, both in the studio and in the pool. It’s a relative newcomer to the exercise business, made popular by its efficiency — it HIITs a lot of fitness targets in a relatively short amount of time — and the variety it gives to a workout.

Researchers have found that HIIT improves both cardiovascular and muscular performance for trained athletes as well as individuals with coronary artery disease. I wanted to add it to my exercise routine in the water which was feeling a bit boring. When exercise isn’t fun, it becomes work.

The HIIT Tabata program

I thought that tabata might be a Portuguese dance, like capoeira. But, no, it’s the last name of the Japanese scientist who developed it in 1996.

Tabata training was discovered by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata and a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo.

Fara Ronsenzweig, Active

The structure of Tabata is 8 rounds of 20 seconds fast, 10 seconds slow. You can do any sort of movement as long as you can keep from flailing on the fast part. In the pool, I jogged, did jumping jacks and cross-country skiing, and leg lifts, working my muscles as my arms and legs pushed through the water and working my heart and lungs as I varied the tempo.

Exercise in a given Tabata workout lasts only four minutes, but it’s likely to be one of the longest four minutes you’ve ever endured.

Fara Ronsenzweig, Active

It’s important to listen to your body: only you decide how fast or slow you go. That’s one of the things I really like about Tabata: you go at your own pace.

However, yes, those 4 minutes can seem an eternity, and I need to be inspired to keep going. You can find loads of pre-recorded music that tells you when to GO and when to SLOW so that all you do is …. work! Here’s Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk a la Tabata which I enjoyed during my workout. There are also timers that keep the count for you.

The HIIT afterglow

High intensity workouts can leave you with a nice buzz. Yesterday’s 30-minute Tabata session in the pool left me feeling confident, calm, and serene. It’s endorphins, researchers say. However, I will listen to the experts (and my husband) and not burn myself out.

How will you incorporate HIIT in your next walk or other workout?

Wellness Wednesday: We Are in Training for Life

Every day since I woke up an Amsterdam ICU in 2019, I’ve been in training, training for life. It’s no longer about one race. It’s about staying in this game of life, as well as I can, for as long as I can.

I used to train for running races

When I was in my 20s and living in New York City, I took up recreational running as it was just taking off. I put in the training miles on early-morning runs along the East River, and my husband joined me for weekend runs in Central Park. Soon, we were participating in races organized by the New York Road Runners under Fred Lebow, co-founder of the NYC Marathon. My husband and I both completed half-marathons, but my most notable running moment was shaking the hand of legendary Norwegian marathoner Grete Waitz’ on a Manhattan sidewalk. Her gracious manner and winning ways made her the completely approachable queen of New York City.

Grete Waitz, 9-time winner of the NYC Marathon, crossing the finish line with NYRR’s Fred Lebow in 1992. He was dying of cancer, and it took them more than 5 hours to complete the route.

I stopped running, stopped training

Plantar fasciitis put an end to running as my go-to activity fifteen years ago. Although I continued to exercise, mostly in the water, I stopped thinking of it as training. It was about looking better, or getting thinner, or feeling stronger. I took it for granted that I would simply keep going.

Illness stopped me in my tracks

All that changed on May 5, 2019, when I was stopped in my tracks in Amsterdam by a ruptured aneurysm. For six weeks, my body battled to survive. When I woke up, I was rail thin — okay, yes, my first thought was YIPEE! —and unable to move.

Muscle atrophy comes on fast when you are intubated, and if I hadn’t been strong to start with, it’s very likely I would not have made it.

Then, I was back in training

Everything — leaving the ICU, returning to the United States, living independently in our South Florida home, navigating the world again — everything depended on me recovering my ability to move.

Moving my tongue, my jaw, my neck to be able to chew and swallow, and strengthening my fingers to be able to feed myself. Getting my arms able to lift myself, my torso able to sit up, my hips able to roll me over. Standing up with help. Standing up alone. Walking with help. Striding alone.

I did it all. I got back to living my life.

Surprise return to running

In relearning how to stand and to walk, and through my daily 60-minute exercise routine of walking, stretching, swimming, biking and strength training — I’ve improved my body mechanics. As I recently wrote, I’ve built back better, with a mid-foot heel strike that is easier on the feet. As a result, I no longer have heel pain, and, a couple of times a week I’ve even been able to get back into jogging.

It might be an old-lady shuffle, but from where I was two years ago, this is running!

Physical activity as medicine

This week, I also came to understand physical activity as medicine, thanks to the legacy of my hero, Grete Waitz. I learned that she was just one year older than me, and that she died a decade ago of cancer, the same disease as took NYRR’s Fred Lebow in 1994.

Grete continued running as she was treated for cancer, and her belief in the therapeutic value of physical activity led her to found AKTIV Against Cancer, a foundation whose mission it is to have physical activity become part of cancer treatment, just as exercise is prescribed for people with Type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

We need to treat this as a medicine.

AKTIV Against Cancer funding recipient Lee Jones, Ph.D., Memorial Sloan Kettering

So get moving

None of us gets out of here alive, but let’s live well for as long as we can. We’re all in this training camp together.

Take a lap around the block, and call me in the morning.

A good doctor’s prescription.

Wellness Wednesday: Why Being a Friend is Good for your Health

There’s a new bounce in my step. Part of the feeling comes from some good news: A cyst that cropped up on my pancreas has disappeared. Good. Moving on.

But most of the bounce in my step comes from a new energy. Maybe it’s that I’m swimming again. Or maybe it’s that I’m spending more time with a good friend.

Supporting my friend

My dear friend and neighbor C. took swimming classes this summer, taking the plunge at the urging of her husband to overcome a life-long fear of the water. In just three weeks, she progressed from a panicked doggie paddle to this, which I recorded when I got up earlier than usual to attend her graduation day swim. (Yes, I do testament to the 50’s with my exclamations of ”Holy mackerel!” Another one I seem to use a lot is “Phooey.”)

C swimming class graduation day!

C invited me to help her continue to practice her newfound skill by joining her at our community pool a few mornings a week before her work day.

It was a big ask: being fully retired, I’ve gotten very accustomed to sleeping in, waking slowly over breakfast and the newspaper, and doing some writing before getting out the door for a two-mile walk with our dog.

But C. had made so much progress — not just the crawl, but backstroke, breaststroke and sidestroke! — that I simply couldn’t say no. Swimming alone is not a good idea — although I usually do water exercise once or twice a week, it has been a long time since I’ve done any serious swimming for lack of company.

So, I set my alarm, organized breakfast and the dog, and started showing up.

Helping a friend got me healthier

That was a month ago. Three mornings a week, I am up early, knowing that C. is doing the same, and we meet at our community pool. We catch up and goggle up, and then we’re in the water.

I have watched C continue to develop her new skill. As her arms and legs settle into their rhythm, she is finding freedom in the water and emerges into the warming air with a huge smile on her face. Swimming is a joyful exploration.

My old swimming routine was just waiting for me. The slow ten lengths of freestyle, my body gradually releasing the night’s tension. The mix-up of breaststroke, freestyle, backstroke, and a sort-of butterfly, the variety entertaining my mind and challenging my body. The hypnotic burble of breath and bubble. The final laps bring me home, panting.

We stretch and talk, or talk and stretch. And talk some more on the walk back home. Then we each disappear into the requirements of the day, knowing that, in a day or two, we’ll do this all again.

My friend’s company was just the support I needed to reclaim an old habit. And swimming has become another vehicle though which our friendship blossoms.

Friendship and exercise, what a great combination

The happy buzz of endorphins percolates through my body all day long. I feel stronger, more connected, and more committed to my health. And grateful for a friend’s support.

I thought I was doing her a favor, when in fact it was I who received the blessing.

C and me in the pool
C and me in the pool

Wellness Wednesday: How I Built Back Better

Regular readers will know that I am a huge advocate of water exercise. Last month, I wrote about what water exercise can do for you. In May, I wrote about how water fitness helped me survive a 2019 ruptured aneurysm and to recover and rehabilitate as I celebrated my second anniversary of that trauma. At the end of 2019, when I was strong enough to resume taking classes and before the pandemic had shut down LA Fitness, I wrote that water keeps saving my life.

Heel pain prevented me from jogging

One of the reasons that I became such an advocate of water exercise years ago was that I had developed plantar fasciitis, heel pain that did not permit me to continue to jog as my cardiovascular routine. Although I purchased orthodic inserts for my sneakers, iced my heels, and stretched as recommended by the physical therapists at FYZICAL, nothing really improved. Blame my high-arched dancer’s feet, too tender for the hard world of running.

Buoyancy allowed me to run in water, and resistance improved my overall strength. I even put my old orthotics in my water shoes, — mine are from Ryka.

I didn’t think I would ever jog again. It never occurred to me that I might have to re-learn how to walk, or that starting over would rehabilitate the old injury as I built back better.

I had to re-learn how to walk

July 2019

When I was released from the Amsterdam ICU after six weeks, most of it intubated and inert, I had lost 30 percent of my body weight and the ability to move. Returning home to the United States depended on my ability to walk. Weeks into recovery in the hospital’s 7A unit, I finally stood, but my legs felt as empty as cardboard tubes. Weeks of additional work with my awesome physiotherapists, and I flew home.

Better alignment

My dance background and my American Council on Exercise personal trainer certification helped me be aware of keeping my ears over my shoulders, my shoulders down and back, and my knees over my hips. As my body slowly came back into its own through physical therapy at FYZICAL, there were weeks when I felt like a Transformer every time I slowly stood up, my parts slowly clicking into place.

Better body mechanics

I used the audio workouts from WeightWatchers, aaptiv, to keep me focused and motivated on my outdoor walks. For the first time since my days as a barefoot modern dancer, I was super conscious of how I used my feet in propelling my weight forward. As much as I thought I knew about how to move, I picked up tips like landing mid-foot instead of on my heel. That single tip probably helped more than any other in keeping plantar fasciitis at bay.

Fall 2020

Better strengthening

I continued to do the exercises I had done at PT to strengthen my legs (particularly squats and monster walks), adding resistance bands when my old Lycra water bands gave out. Mine are Fitfort, no longer under that in Amazon, but they look very similar to these. My daughter’s hand weights came out of the closet, too.

Better stretching

The two things I missed most about moving my body while I was hospitalized were relaxation — when you’re lying in bed all day, you never get that “ahhh” release — and stretching. As I recovered strength and movement, I regained the need to relax and the ability to stretch. Water gave me back loads of stretching, and my weekly yoga class with Jade Wonzo has facilitated even more.

Et voilá! I’m jogging

Bit by bit, walking became trotting became jogging, without any heel pain, and now I’m jogging — not running every day but doing a steady 15-minute mile several times a week. I’m swimming or biking the other days. And doing weights and stretching too. Our rescue Lab and I walk every day.

Someone said, “Oh, you’re cross-training!” Guess so. A little bit of everything seems to be a good balance for now. As I continue to build back better.

September 8, 2021 running in my Ryka water shoes

Wellness Wednesday: How the Fitness Habit Helped One Journalist Recover from COVID

My devotion to fitness aided in my recovery.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

I recognized the gratitude in these words. My exercise teaching experience gave me a whole lot of helping hands when I pulled myself up from post-Intensive Care syndrome following my lengthy hospitalization in 2019. Although my illness pre-dated COVID, I felt a sort of kinship with Jorge Milian’s experience. I wanted to find out more.

Here is what I learned in my research, including a telephone conversation with Jorge a few weeks ago.

Palm Beach Post reporter Jorge Milian

In his coverage of the COVID pandemic’s impact on his beat of Lake Worth Beach and Boynton Beach, Palm Beach Post reporter and journalist Jorge Milian has written tributes to fallen community leaders and other victims of the virus, stories on the verbal attacks on the city’s Central American migrants, and articles on the eviction moratorium. What he never expected to write was a story on his own hellish encounter with COVID-19 at the end of January.

Hellish month

I had a raging fever, my head felt like it was on the verge of exploding and each of the 206 bones in my body ached.

That began around 4-5 weeks of unpleasantness that, at its worst, had me wondering if I would wind up like some of the people I’ve written about since last March in the Palm Beach Post who died after getting COVID-19 (and if would I have time to alert the Post’s editors not to use the headshot that makes me look 20 pounds heavier in my obituary?)

I can joke about it now. But there’s nothing funny about running a high fever for days and feeling like you are trying to breathe under water while your doctor is wondering aloud whether you should check into a hospital – a thought that terrified me even more than the unexplainable nightmares and hallucinations that dogged me for around 10 unrelenting, miserable days and nights.

Walking from one side of the house to the other seemed like a marathon. The worst of it was at night when I would wake up gasping for air, almost as if I had forgotten to breathe.

Fatigue was another big issue. For around two weeks after getting sick, I would sleep for 10 hours then spend the rest of the day feeling like I needed a nap.

My doctor told me I should seriously consider going to the hospital if my oxygen level fell below 90. My oxygen level never dropped under 92, but still low enough for thoughts of ventilators and doctors in space suits to cram my thoughts.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

Exercise habit

In a recent conversation, Jorge told me that before being bedridden by COVID-19 for 15 days, he had not been sick in his 26 years with The Palm Beach Post. He is an active 61-year-old, a diligent gym-goer (“a little bit of a maniac”), and former runner. He credits his lifetime fitness habit with his quick comeback.

As sick as I got, I still feel kind of lucky. My devotion to fitness aided in my recovery. [Still], it’s only been in the past couple of weeks that I can go for my hour-long bike ride or complete my daily strengthtraining routine without stopping every 15 minutes to catch my breath.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

His body struggled though what had been comfortable workouts.

When I returned to the gym, it felt like a fever would suddenly rage through my body, heating up like crazy, although my temperature would be normal. But my muscle memory was there to see me though.

Jorge Milian, reporter and journalist

Fitness advice

Jorge is happy to be on the other side of his COVID-19 illness. He is not a long hauler, having been able to resume his full activity routine. And what does he recommend to help others build up their strength?

Find something you like to do and do it. Every day. Consistently. Work up to being active for an hour a day.

Jorge Milian, reporter and journalist

Staying well

Follow the public health recommendations: get vaccinated, wear a mask, and practice social distancing.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying that contracting COVID-19 was no worse than catching the flu, but the virus put this 60-year-old through a physical and mental wringer like I haven’t experienced before.

What I had, you don’t want.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021
Reporter Jorge Milian, photo Thomas Cordy, The Palm Beach Post

Wellness Wednesday: What Metabolism Myth Was Just Busted?

Although people gain on average more than a pound and a half a year during adulthood, they can no longer attribute it to slowing metabolisms.

Gina Kolata, The New York Times, August 12, 2021

Metabolism steady through adulthood

My friend Marlo Scott, First Class Fitness and Wellness, brought this new information to my attention.

In a recent New York Times article, What We Think We Know About Metabolism May Be Wrong, science reporter Gina Kolata writes that a recent study published in Science Magazine opens to question the belief that the rate at which our bodies burn calories slows as we age. Instead, the study found, adult metabolism holds steady from age 20 to 60. So much for blaming middle-age spread on our slowing bodies.

No difference between men and women

The study also found no significant difference between men’s and women’s metabolic rates.

Everything changes at 60

On a more sobering note, there is a big slow-down after 60, with a 20 percent drop by age 95.

There is a myth of retaining youth. That’s not what the biology says. In and around age 60, things start to change. There is a time point when things are no longer as they used to be.

Rozalyn Anderson, a professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, quoted in What We Think We Know About Metabolism May Be Wrong.

So, there’s no blaming a slow metabolism before you’re 60, and then everything falls apart. Great.

What can we do? Move more, eat better, and sleep longer.

Move more

Exercise is the key!

Marlo Scott, First Class Fitness and Wellness

Getting off the couch immediately improves our body’s ability to burn calories and break down body fat, and to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. Get a fitness tracker to see how many steps you take each day. Information is power! Challenge yourself to do a little more and see if you can get to 10,000.

Eat better

USDA myplate.gov
USDA myplate.gov

Remember the old food pyramid? It’s now been simplified (and assigned portion control) as a small dinner plate. (Yes, plates have expanded in size along with our bodies!) A diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and lean protein is the key to good nutrition. And drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Find out more at myplate.gov.

When deciding what to eat or drink, choose options that are full of nutrients. Make every bite count.

Myplate.gov

Sleep longer

Getting enough sleep is an essential part of a well-rounded health routine — We’ve all had those sluggish mornings that just beg for breakfasts loaded with sugar and fat, which send us crashing hours later.

Establish a screen-free bedtime routine to help you disengage from the day. I drink a calming cup of Sleepytime tea and take a relaxing bath before I turn in. And I sleep more deeply since I began using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine to reduce apnea interruptions. Martin Sheen’s character, Robert, now sports one on Grace and Frankie. Here’s why. A short Season 7 is up!

Wellness Wednesday: Jade Wonzo’s Inside Out Approach to Yoga

My yoga teacher’s three-year-old son joined in our Zoom class one Saturday morning, sitting quietly in the opening poses. When he took off around the patio on his Big Wheel tricycle after a couple of minutes, I was admittedly relieved — it seemed so out of character for a little boy to be still — but I was also impressed that he stayed mostly quiet as Jade Wonzo of Jade Light Yoga maintained her focus on leading us through the class.

I spoke with Jade about it afterwards.

It’s amazing what kids absorb. He watches what I do and we talk about not letting feelings control you. He’s learned to say what he feels instead of letting emotions get to him most of the time.

Jade Wonzo of Jade Light Yoga

Breathing can change how you feel

An even bigger lesson revealed itself when her son was at his grandmother’s house one evening.

My mother-in-law called to tell me that he’d helped her through a kind of panic attack by suggesting she take some deep breaths. I was so proud of him for knowing that breathing can change how you feel. I hope that he carries that knowledge with him as he grows.

Jade Wonzo of Jade Light Yoga

Changing from the inside

Changing from the inside out is part of Jade’s approach to yoga.

You will get more flexible. You will get stronger. Maybe you’ll even lose weight. But when you connect inside of yourself, you will leave a yoga class feeling different. Through this physical practice, we can change from the inside out.

Jade Wonzo of Jade Light Yoga

That would be me. If my Apple watch doesn’t give me credit for the activity, it’s as if I’ve done nothing.

Sitting with the stillness

Jade asks us to bring our thoughts in from the day as we gather on our mats, and she suggests that we stay in our final resting pose, or shavasana, for a few minutes after class ends.

Let yourself simply sit with yourself in stillness. Listen to the silence and let your soul whisper to you in those moments.

Jade Wonzo of Jade Light Yoga

Letting go your grasp on outside things

She understands how challenging this can be, especially when life overwhelms us and we feel at sea. The pandemic, family, health, finances, we all have real stressors to deal with.

I know this is hard. Sit down, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Then, do it again, for as many times as it takes for you to surrender. Let go your grasp on outside things and return to the very thing you need most: your self.

This is the most important part of your practice. Don’t skip it. Be aware of the breath, relax fingers and toes, relax eyelids over the eyes. Remember that whatever you have to do will be there when you’re done with your own practice, your own self-care, your own time. Just allow the stillness to be OK.

Jade Wonzo of Jade Light Yoga

Shanti, shanti, shanti. Peace, peace, peace.

Jade Wonzo, Jade Light Yoga
Jade Wonzo, Jade Light Yoga

Read more of my posts about Jade Wonzo: Meet Jade Wonzo, the Teacher Who Wants Yoga to be for All.

Wellness Wednesday: Why I Celebrated My Two-Year “All Clear” With New Shoes

Of all the tools I used to strengthen my body over my two-year recovery from a ruptured aneurysm, my trusty Skechers were the last to go.

I had three pairs of them, all army-issue grey, in sizes 7, 7.5, and 8. My husband bought them for me in Amsterdam during my hospitalization. It wasn’t that he didn’t know that I wear a 7. It was that my lower legs and feet were puffy from lack of use.

A long period of immobility with the legs dependent (below heart level) can lead to a build up of fluid, since we rely on the movement of the muscles in the leg to move the blood and fluid up out of the legs towards the heart.

The Vascular Society of Great Britain and Ireland

From May into June, I lay immobile in the ICU, my feet flexed against a pillow at the foot of the bed to prevent them from curling into each other, pigeon toed. For four weeks, my body battled its way back from the systemic-shut down that followed the ruptured aneurysm.

When I finally emerged from the fog of illness, I noticed how thin my arms and legs were (my puffy feet came later). My immediate thought: “This is fantastic! I can fit into my wedding outfit!” My second thought: “But I can’t move.” The ICU nurses strapped my flaccid thin legs to a bed-mounted motorized bicycle, and I began to work my way back.

It took another month to regain the ability to stand. There was no question about trying to get my unresponsive feet into even the bigger Skechers — if you’ve ever tried to put a shoe on a baby, you get the idea. Instead, I slid into a pair of pink plastic Crocs a roommate had left behind. Here I am taking the Crocs for a spin with my jazzy blue Rollator about 10 days before flying back to the States, with my very proud husband narrating for our daughter. (Yeah, I was pretty exhausted by the whole process, as my flat affect shows. Easy to forget that.)

At the end of July, I left the Crocs behind in Amsterdam and wore my size 8 Skechers when we flew to Shands Hospital in Florida before continuing my recovery back home. Those sturdy gray shoes took me shuffling down the neighborhood sidewalks and through my paces in FYZICAL therapy. My feet and calves stayed puffy, even with the compression stockings the therapist recommended. (They’re basically SPANX for your calves, hard to squeeze into and a relief to roll off.)

In November, the doctor at Shands suggested that the lower legs might not recover any further. “This may be it,” he said, matter of factly. “Maybe,” I said, and walked up two flights of stairs to our daughter’s apartment.

In February, we added Kumba, rescued by Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, to our household, and he kept me company in my morning walks, the two of us slowly gaining confidence in our frail bodies. My feet unswelled. I fit into my proper size of my battle-grey Skechers. I kept going into the pandemic, past a telehealth Shands checkup that showed continued progress, aiming at the two-year, in-person checkup that I hoped would release me back into the civilian population.

That day came at the end of July, and I threw out all three pairs of my illness-weary, pandemic-worn grey Skechers and replaced them with these Akk memory foam sneakers. One day, I might even update to heels! It’s a new day, a new year, and life awaits!

Wellness Wednesday: Did I Have a Lethal Disease or Just Rotten Luck?

I am well. For the first time since May 5, 2019, I am not a hospital patient.

A healthy patient

Before our 2019 transatlantic cruise to Europe, I considered myself our doctor’s most boring patient. I was a fitness instructor. Apart from having our daughter nearly 30 years ago, I’d never been hospitalized, and I had none of the diseases that creep in as we age. My husband has not been quite as lucky, but he was cleared to travel.

Off we went on our two-week journey across the pond from Florida to Amsterdam, with one additional roundtrip week from Amsterdam to Norway tacked on. We had booked an apartment in Amsterdam’s canal district for a month to end our trip on solid ground in one of our favorite cities.

Three months in the hospital: May 5 to August 9

Saying that I was a boring patient was simply too tempting for The Fates to let lie, but they did give me a chance to make it.

In the single day we were in Amsterdam, I was felled by a ruptured arterial aneurysm, and my heart stopped as I was wheeled into the OLVG Hospital emergency room. They got me back and quickly sealed the leak, but my body struggled to keep going for nearly six weeks in the ICU, leaving me wasted and weak. It took me another six weeks to recover my ability to move and the strength to survive a flight home. I was transferred to a Florida hospital with the savvy to take over my treatment, the University of Florida’s Shands Hospital, where I was an inpatient for a week before being discharged to return home. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of that wonderful re-entry into our palm-and -lake-laden neighborhood.

But hanging over my head was Amsterdam’s diagnosis: the ruptured aneurysm had been surrounded by other aneurysms, symptoms of an extremely rare vascular disease: segmental arterial mediolysis. According to the Mayo Clinic (Jacksonville FL), SAM carries a mortality rate of 50 percent. If the SAM diagnosis was correct, I’d need to be carefully monitored by all-too-rare specialists for the rest of my life. Although Shands was five hours from home, I needed to remain their patient. Maybe forever.

One-month check up: August, 2019

On our return, Shands identified a pseudo aneurysm near my ER incision and fixed it while I tried not to hyperventilate. God bless the nurse who understood what was going on in my head. She stood right next to me chatting about children and dance lessons, keeping me distracted while the rest of the team worked away.

Four-month check up: November, 2019

This time, there was nothing to see. Apart from the evidence of the clamped tear, my blood vessels looked healthy. No aneurysms. Not even any pseudos.

One-year check up: virtual, 2020

It was out of the question to travel to Shands as the pandemic raged. Instead, I ventured to a local facility for the scan, and Shands had a look. Still healthy. No aneurysms.

Two-year check up: July, 2021

We were fully vaccinated mid-winter, and I scheduled my next checkup at Shands before Florida became ground-zero for the delta variant of the Coronavirus. However, by the time we traveled, cases, transmissions, hospitalizations, and deaths were all soaring. We kept on our masks. We sanitized our hands. We drove.

Shands’ CT scan showed no sign of disease. I do not have the terrible, rare SAM. I had some rotten luck, is all.

Go live your life. Follow up with someone closer to home in a year or two, and we’re here if you need us.

Dr. Thomas Huber, Chief of Vascular Surgery, Shands Hospital, University of Florida Health

Discharged

I will always feel deeply grateful to the staff in Amsterdam and at Shands who carried me through the days, months, and years since May 5, 2019, but it feels darn good to be a civilian again.

This time, however, I am taking nothing for granted. I am working hard every day at being strong, well-nourished, and engaged with life.

To life!

Jane Kelly Amerson Lopez
Jane Kelly Amerson Lopez

Wellness Wednesday: What Water Exercise Can Do For You

Water saved my life

On Christmas Eve 2019, I wrote that water keeps saving my life. My work as an instructor of aquatic exercise had me fit enough to survive a ruptured arterial aneurysm and six weeks in an Amsterdam ICU in May of 2019, and I recovered the ability to move in water long before I could replicate those moves on land as my recovery continued back home in Florida.

Boynton Inlet, Palm Beach County, Florida

Today, I’ve tapped into two friends who are water fitness instructors — Janet Weisenford, who teaches at the Boca Raton YMCA, and Marlo Scott of First Class Fitness and Wellness — to help explore why water is such a great environment to exercise in, and what specific moves are the most useful.

Water gave a runner new legs

I discovered the wonderful magic of water fitness after being a distance runner for many years. I suffered from arthritis and needed to find another way to keep physically and mentally fit. At my massage therapist’s suggestion, I decided to check out aquatic exercise.

Janet Weisenford, Aquatics Exercise Association certified instructor at the Boca Raton YMCA

The water fitness class she took opened a new chapter for Janet Weisenford, a long-time teaching buddy. She discovered that she could get a great total body workout — cardio, strength training, and flexibility. Janet was so captivated that she became a certified instructor through the Aquatics Exercise Association, where she learned more about the water and its properties. Here is what Janet says about why water is such a great exercise medium:

  • Water’s buoyancy cushions our joints, allowing former runners like myself to run in the water with minimal impact.
  • The water also offers resistance, not only building muscle but also building or maintaining bone density.
  • Water workouts can also improve flexibility. The reduced effects of gravity allow you to move through a greater range of motion.

Flexibility, Janet says, is important for doing everyday activities, especially as we age, and it is often a component of fitness that is overlooked.

I can attest to that. There is nowhere better to stretch than in a pool, supported by the water.

Water exercises for core

As I learned during my recovery, core muscles bear the burden of holding us upright, ready for life. So focussing on these torso workhorses is an excellent idea. I asked Marlo Scott, with whom I’ve published posts on posture and on weight loss, for her favorite core exercises.

Core is a no-brainer: The plank, the push-up, and the bicycle.

Marlo Scott of First Class Fitness and Wellness

Notice how the old-fashioned sit-ups aren’t on Marlo’s list? The bicycle works not only the mid-section abdominals but also the obliques, back muscles, gluteus and hips while improving coordination, stability, and flexibility. The plank and push-ups add work for the chest, back, and arm muscles.

In the water, I love cross country skiing and then anything that involves a twist — even better, a twist with a noodle. I also think pull ups at the pool’s edge are fantastic. And front and rear leg kicks (as in doing the backstroke and the crawl) are great, too.

Marlo Scott of First Class Fitness and Wellness
Jane Kelly Amerson Lopez pool demonstration: jogging, plank, bicycle.

Try it for yourself

If you haven’t tried a class or a water workout at home, please do! I am sure that you will become a fan!

Janet Weisenford, Aquatics Exercise Association certified instructor at the Boca Raton YMCA
Marlo Scott jumping for joy in her new water exercise gear!