For the ladies who gather each Monday and Wednesday morning in the ministry center of the Ingomar United Methodist Church, it's as much about a good social time as it is about maintaining their health.
"I think it's great, said Sue Beard, 76. "It keeps my joints moving. Good fellowship. Lots of laughs."
The church was one of the first in Allegheny County to offer an exercise program designed by the Arthritis Foundation to help relieve stiffness and decrease arthritis pain in seniors who suffer from the disease.
The low-impact program can be performed sitting or standing. It gently stretches muscles and works joints from the neck to the toes.
A recent study of the PACE (People with Arthritis Can Exercise) program by researchers at the University of North Carolina showed significant improvements in reducing pain and fatigue among those who completed the eight-week course, with benefits persisting for up to six months after completion of the course.
"I liked it because it's not just an exercise program," said Laurie Maietta, who taught the PACE course last fall at Panther Physical Therapy in Hampton. "You have the exercise program, an educational program, and a relaxation component as well."
Arthritis sufferers tend to be less fit than seniors who don't suffer from this condition. Which is too bad, said Dr. Moira Davenport, director of sports and emergency medicine for Allegheny General Hospital, because "exercise can definitely help people suffering from arthritis. It strengthens the muscle around the affected joints, and takes away some of the pressure and pain."
The PACE program, Dr. Davenport said, "is a good way to expose people who haven't exercised to some of the options that are available to people who suffer from arthritis."
For the ladies who meet at the Ingomar United Methodist Church, the benefits continue indefinitely, because the course is offered essentially year round, and most of the regulars have been taking it since its inception four years ago.
"We used to take a break in the summer, but the ladies wanted to continue," said Joan Kilby, one of the instructors.
Ms. Kilby is a registered nurse, as is Margie Martinelli, the director of Wellness programs for Ingomar United Methodist Church, the person who started the program there.
"You have to be certified [to teach]," Ms. Martinelli said. "The Arthritis Foundation is very particular. You have to be recertified every three years."
Initially, only registered nurses and physical therapists were eligible to take the one-day certification course, Ms. Martinelli said.
The class at Ingomar begins with a brief devotional reading, the only deviation from the Arthritis Foundation's curriculum. "We are, after all, a church," Ms. Kilby said.
The gentle range-of-motion exercises offer plenty of opportunity for socializing. Conversation is lively throughout the hour session.
Ms. Kilby no longer needs to demonstrate each exercise before it is performed, because her regulars are all familiar with them, but she keeps a close watch on the class to make sure the exercises are being performed correctly.
"Just to see their range of motion increasing is a blessing," Ms. Martinelli said.
• If you'd like more information about the PACE class at Ingomar United Methodist Church, contact Ms. Martinelli at 412-364-3613.
Other locations in Allegheny County which have offered PACE classes include Panther Physical Therapy, 724-443-8060; Destination Wellness at Pittsburgh Mills near Tarentum, 724-274-5202; Fox Chapel Physical Therapy, 412-967-9229; Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, 412-681-0229; Hill House Senior Center, 412-392-4450; the Monroeville Senior Citizen Center, 412-856-7825; Trinity Lutheran Church on Brownsville Road, 412-381-8300; Western Manor in the lower Hill District, 412-232-7157; West Park Court, 412-231-2636, West Penn Hospital, 412-578-3956, and Willow Heights in McKees Rocks, 412-480-5379.
Not all these locations offer the course continuously.
• For more information about PACE and for locations outside of Allegheny County, visit the Arthritis Foundation's Web site, www.arthritis.org.
Jack Kelly can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1476.