Those in the know speak about indoor pools using a specialized term: natatoriums. And every day, Atlanta’s older adults are among that informed number as they take to the city’s under-cover waters to improve their well-being through water aerobics.
“It’s the ideal situation for older people because the water makes it so easy on your joints. We’ve had people who started out walking on canes and stuff, and they’re not even on the canes anymore. Or if they are, it’s very limited,” participant Flo Rushin, 72, told the AJC.
The born-and-raised Atlantan and grandmother of two gets most of her water exercise in the pool at Rosel Fann Natatorium, and she said she’s able to do a lot more in the water than she probably could on land.
“I can do 200 jumping jacks in the water, but I don’t know if I could do 200 jumping jacks out of the water,” she said. “We run, and we don’t even feel it. And even when you get out of the water, you still don’t feel it.”
Music and movement
Rushin began with the aquatic exercise activity about six years ago after she’d retired and a neighbor told her about it. Now, she tries to attend classes three to five days out of every week.
“I kind of made myself a promise when we were out during the pandemic that if I got an opportunity to get back into that, I would give it my all in all, so I try not to put a timeline on how much I go and what I do, but I try to go as much as possible,” she said.
She enjoys the uplifting music and periods of intense movement with rest interspersed. The classes offer an opportunity for social engagement, too.
“I had never worked around a group of women like me, and now, I’m around a group of women like me,” Rushin said. “We socialize. We’ve gone to plays together. We talk about our grandchildren … I’ve made some really close friends.”
The city has three other indoor pool facilities besides Rosel Fann: Washington Park Natatorium, C.T. Martin Natatorium and M.L. King, Jr. Recreation and Aquatic Center, according to City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation Aquatics Director Marcus Byams.
Those first three locations each have 25-yard pools with an additional therapy pool, and the M.L. King Center is more of a family-friendly setup with a zero-depth pool as deep as 3 feet, Byams said. Each location hosts its own water aerobics program, and particularly attractive for seniors, Byams said, are the classes included in the department’s Primetime Senior Programs, which give participants access to the pools at certain times and also include swimming lessons and lap swimming lessons.
“We’re actually trying to increase participation,” Byams said of Primetime programs. “We did really just open up a lot more of our classes (from pandemic closure) as of last year around the fall time.”
‘I need to do something’
Angela Green, 72, lives in the Edgewood area and began water aerobics in 1997 as an intervention for her physical and mental health.
“I would come from work. I was about 50-something then,” she said. “And I would stop by on my way from work and exercise, the reason being I was getting older. All of a sudden I had a tragedy in my family. I had (elevated) blood pressure, and I had depression — instantly — just boom. And so, I knew that heart disease ran in my family and I needed to do something because the doctor kept talking to me.”
Today, she takes advantage of water aerobics classes three to six times per week at M.L. King, Rosel Fann, and Washington Park, and she still sees benefits that have boosted her health as she’s adjusted to retirement.
“It keeps my stress level down because when you become older — I hate to admit that I’m old — you have to adjust to different things, and you retire, and you can’t sit around because your mind will wander, so you just have to keep busy,” she said. “And the water gives me good sleep at night. When I leave water aerobics, I am tired.”
Classes, she pointed out, are always indoors. Like Rushin, she likes the energetic music and no-impact aspect of water aerobics. She hasn’t had to undergo interventions for her joints — steroid shots or replacements — that she sees many of her peers facing, and she thinks that’s because she began the activity in her 50s.
And there’s another perk.
“I had a little issue with my right knee,” she said. “And when I come to the pool and stretch it and work in the water, I can still wear my high-heeled shoes at 72!”