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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : features : features May 26, 2016

11/20/2012 1:31:00 PM
Water aerobics for severe physical limitations
Weight loss, balance, strengthening and range of motion
Nancy Jo Ricca is a post rehabilitative specialist. She conducts water aerobics classes and also works with homebound patients with physically limiting conditions. VVN/Philip Wright
Nancy Jo Ricca is a post rehabilitative specialist. She conducts water aerobics classes and also works with homebound patients with physically limiting conditions. VVN/Philip Wright
Water exercises are designed to help each person individually with their condition.
Water exercises are designed to help each person individually with their condition.

Philip Wright
Staff Reporter

COTTONWOOD - To begin, Nancy Jo Ricca, wants you to know what she is not. "I'm not a physical therapist," she said. "I'm a post rehabilitation specialist. Most of my clients have special conditions."

Some of her clients are simply fighting back against aging, some want to lose weight, a couple have had multiple fractures in car accidents, and one woman with post-polio syndrome is also recovering from heart surgery.

Mary Beth Roberts of Sedona contracted polio when she was 13 months old. She spent more than a year and a half in hospitals, and the polio has been something she has dealt with most of her life. Recently she had valve replacement surgery.

Mary Beth must use a wheel chair, but she is anxious for her sternum to heal so she can get back to her water aerobics classes three days a week.

"I just cannot express the importance of what swimming in the warm therapeutic pool has done for me," Mary Beth said. "I don't think I can exist without it."

Mary Beth amazes Nancy Jo. "It's incredibly impressive to watch her transfer herself from her wheel chair to the chair lift, lower herself into the pool and join us in the class," Nancy Jo said.

Ricca started working with Parkinson's patients about 13 years ago. She said she has always worked with older adults of 50 or more.

"I got trained in working with people with osteoporosis," she said. I do a lot of personal training with people who are confined to their home."

But this particular class that Ricca leads every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, is a weight loss aerobics class.

"But most people in the class have physically limiting conditions," she explained. "When they're in the water they can do all sorts of things they couldn't do out of the water."

About 40 minutes of each class is dedicated to an aerobics component.

"Forty minutes is the magic number," Ricca says. "The latest scientific research shows that doing 40 minutes of an aerobic activity will halt, or even reverse, many conditions, including aging."

Ricca points out that people with limiting physical conditions typically get 30 percent more range of motion in the water. But she says that what makes this class different from many is that she approaches the class from a therapeutic angle.

"I know what conditions my people have," she said. "And I include exercises that will help them."

Lola Higgs, 69, has been in the water aerobics class for six months.

"For the last 21 years I've been in the stroke range with lipids and blood pressure," Higgs explained. "I've been taking medication and it did come down a little bit."

But about two months ago, her doctor did a blood test on her.

"It was the first time in 21 years that my readings were in the normal range," she said. "Because of that, my medications have been reduced."

Higgs said that she hasn't actually lost much weight in the class, but her endurance has improved noticeably.

"It's wonderful the way she does it," Lola said. "You work your whole body."

Cindy Ringle of Cottonwood was in a car accident. She said she has been through physical therapy at two places. But the pain always came back.

"I wasn't able to exercise, so I gained weight," Ringle said.

The water aerobics class was recommended to Ringle to help her lose weight and gain core strength to be more flexible.

"I've lost 20 pounds, and I'm not really watching what I eat that much," Ringle said. "I'm much stronger than what I used to be, at least 50 percent, or maybe 75 percent."

Ringle said the combination of heat, salt water and the resistance of the water allows her to exercise without impacting her hip.

But the pain management is the real payoff for Ringle.

"After class, I can go home and if I don't do heavy work, I can remain almost pain free for 48 hours or more," Ringle said. "This is as close to normal as I've been in two years. I rearrange my life so I can come here."

Maggie Havens of Cornville says the condition she is fighting is "old age."

"Basically just being able to move," she said. "I actually joined to lose weight."

She also walks and belongs to a weight loss group that she says also helps.

"I've dropped a little over 25 pounds in a year," she said.

"My range of motion is a lot better and my strength is better," Havens said.

She said she was lacking energy before she got more active. "Now I have a lot more energy. And you are never, ever sore afterwards."

Ricca says that she is honored to work with her clients.

"These people are truly dedicated to this," she said. "They wouldn't be doing anything if not in this class."

Cindy Ringle made the observation that the people in the class may use wheelchairs or walkers or canes before coming to the class.

"But when we're in the water, we're all equals."

Nancy Jo Ricca teaches the water aerobics class at Resource Physical Therapy at 825 W. Mingus Ave. in Cottonwood.

For information, call Nancy Jo at (928) 451-4949 or via email at

Taylor Waste

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