A healthy stretch

Twice a week, Marilyn Soriano of Niles attends arthritis therapy sessions held each Monday and Friday morning at the Niles Senior SCOPE Center.

”If you don’t exercise, you don’t move,” Soriano said.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions that can affect people of all ages, races and genders.

The most common form of arthritis that affects the older generation is osteoarthritis, a progressive degenerative joint disease caused by the breakdown of joint cartilage. Besides age, the risk factors for this type of arthritis include being overweight or obese and those with a history of joint injury.

A more severe type is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), which can affect the entire body. This disease is characterized by the inflammation of the membranes lining the joints, which cause pain, stiffness, warmth, swelling and sometimes severe joint damage.

Marlene Mrofchak, who also regularly attends the exercise classes, was diagnosed with RA at the age of 29. Mrofchak, who is affected in several joints and has had multiple surgeries including both hips, an ankle and a wrist, believes the therapy sessions help with flexibility.

”I don’t know where I would be without movement,” Mrofchak said. ”I’m not A-1, but it’s better than being in bed.”

The goal of the therapy exercises is to keep people moving, said Brian Jones, physical therapist with Eschman Therapists LLC of Warren and instructor at the senior center.

”Any time you don’t move, things lock up, especially in the morning,” Jones said.

According to Jones, the exercise routine benefits the entire body, loosening muscles and joints. All of the goals for arthritis sufferers are short-term goals, Jones said. By setting these goals to keep moving every day, arthritis sufferers can gain regular benefits.

During the exercise routines, which begin by head and neck movements and gradually navigate through the arms, wrists, fingers and the legs, feet and toes, Jones stresses to participants to work at their own pace.

”We tell people to move as fast or as slow as they feel that day and try to gear the movements toward the slowest person in the group.”

While statistically more women suffer from arthritis than men, the gap isn’t that large, with 24 percent of women sufferers and 18 percentof men whose illnesses were diagnosed by doctors, according to the Arthritis Foundation. This was evident in the exercise classes, with women making up the majority of participants, however, there were men in attendance as well.

Millard Wilson, a regular participant, said the classes always make him feel better.

”My joints feel looser and I can move easier,” he said.

Many exercise participants also attend regular yoga classes at the center and at the Girard Multi-Generational Center as well.

”My doctor told me to attend as many classes as I can,” said Sylvia DiFrangia. ”So I go to the Girard center on Wednesdays.”

Certified yoga instructor Roselyn Ragozine, with the Girard Multi-Generational Center, said the exercise routines she teaches are also geared toward arthritis sufferers and to reach all of the muscles of the body and help to strengthen endurance.

Shirley Martin, a volunteer at the center, exercises every day and attends Ragozine’s sessions regularly.

”It give me more energy,” Martin said.

According to Ragozine, in addition to the movement, proper breathing techniques are important to keep oxygen flowing to the muscles as well.

”Some people won’t breathe properly without the help of a therapist or trainer,” Ragozine said. ”Many are in pain and can have anxiety because of the pain and have to be reminded to take those deep breaths.”

Ragozine also feels consistency is the key to feeling better.

”You don’t have to do strenuous exercise,” she said. ”You only have to be consistent.”

According to the Arthritis Foundation, regular exercise is important to keep joints flexible, strengthen muscles, help with sleeping, increase energy and improves a person’s overall outlook. Exercise routines also should be low impact and include an all-around range of motion.