Club’s aqua Zumba class proves popular

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Aqua Zumba

Seniors shake, step and splash for the sake of fitness.

Seniors shake, step and splash for the sake of fitness.

From all indications, Jamie Wunderlich is preparing to lead a typical water aerobics class.

She sets up an exercise mat in front of the pool and welcomes the participants, most in their 60s, as they stroll into the Touchmark Health and Fitness Club on a recent Friday morning.

A dozen women and a lone man wade into the chest-deep water. They place their water bottles on the side of the pool and do some gentle stretching. As the 9 o’clock hour approaches, the participants get into a loose formation in the warm water.

Then a hip-hop version of country line dancing music blares through the speakers above the pool. The warm-up song was followed by Gloria Estefan’s “Conga” and various other Latin-inspired songs.

If the music isn’t enough, the shimmying, hip swiveling and arm swinging are dead giveaways: this isn’t a typical water aerobics class.

It’s aqua Zumba.

“It’s a dance fitness party with a splash,” Wunderlich said.

Touchmark at Fairway Village, formerly Waterford at Fairway Village, joined in on the Zumba dance mania a few years ago.

“We started with the regular Zumba craze in the exercise room and found that it was problematic for this age group,” said Kim Lehman, Touchmark’s health and fitness director.

The health club is open to people 40 years and older. Many of the club’s patrons have had previous knee or back issues, or have arthritis or other mobility issues, Lehman said.

Lehman heard about aqua Zumba and Touchmark sent a couple of its aquatic instructors to California for training. The club began offering the classes a year ago.

“It’s been a hit ever since,” Lehman said.

Wunderlich teaches the 45-minute class every Friday morning. The class size has swelled in the past year as word spread. It attracts people of all ages and abilities.

The class is a hybrid between water aerobics and traditional Zumba. Participants follow dance moves choreographed to Latin music and incorporate more traditional exercise moves, such as lunging and squatting.

“You’re actually dancing in the water,” said Jean Carr of Vancouver.

And for those who may be unsure of their skills or embarrassed to dance in front of others, the pool serves as a shield, Lehman said.

“It doesn’t matter how awkward they feel because nobody can see them,” she said.

Carr has been a regular participant in the class and said she prefers the pool over exercise rooms.

“This is easier for me,” the 64-year-old said. “I’ve had a stroke. I can’t keep up as well on land.”

The water provides buoyancy, making it easier for Carr to move and keep her balance, she said.

In addition, the class can help to improve joint function, muscle tone, cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility and endurance, Wunderlich said. And because the class requires choreography, it’s also improving cognitive function, she said.

“It’s not only getting your body in shape, it’s getting your mind in shape also,” Wunderlich said.

Pat Norey of Vancouver is one of the class’s original participants. She also takes other exercise classes at the club, including traditional water aerobics, but prefers aqua Zumba.

“This is so much more fun,” the 66-year-old said. “I spend a lot of time laughing.”

But the participants are not the only ones smiling, laughing and having a good time.

“I just absolutely love aqua Zumba,” Wunderlich said.

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.