Tai chi classes in Plum, Penn Hills to offer alternative for arthritis sufferers

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

Connie Ainsworth knows about beating the odds.

Ainsworth, 59, a Plum native who lives in Penn Hills, successfully beat uterine cancer in 2001, then breast cancer in 2004.

Ainsworth, a tai chi instructor, decided to put her fighting spirit to work for those with arthritis. She recently became certified by the U.S. Arthritis Foundation to teach tai chi to people dealing with the disease and will lead classes in Penn Hills and Plum.

An estimated 50 million adults in the U.S. suffer from the more than 100 different rheumatic diseases that comprise arthritis, most commonly osteoarthritis, a chronic joint disease of the hands, hips, knees and spine, and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease affecting the joints, according to the Arthritis Foundation website.

An additional 300,000 children under the age of 16 are afflicted with juvenile arthritis, which causes persistent joint pain and can result in growth problems and eye inflammation.

Ainsworth is all too familiar with the hardships associated with arthritis.

Christina Ross, 12, of Butler, Ainsworth's great-niece, four years ago was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

“It's in five of her joints,” Ainsworth said.

Many in the baby-boomer generation, such as those in Ainsworth's age group, are experiencing the arthritic effects of stresses and strains to their bodies, Ainsworth said.

“My generation suffered from the abuses we put our bodies through,” Ainsworth said. “We were the generation that partied a lot and experienced the excess of life. Aerobics and fitness were not big then. I wish I would have known what I know now when I was younger.”

Ainsworth said her class will include instruction in proper movement.

The keys to success for those with arthritis are gentle movements, breathing properly and meditating rather than high-impact aerobic activities, Ainsworth said. Those keys are at the heart of tai chi.

“There's no bouncing like in aerobics,” Ainsworth said. “The calmness is awesome.”

The same goes for those who have been afflicted with cancer.

“Most cancer survivors take medication that affects your joints, therefore walking and writing is painful,” Ainsworth said.

The gentle movements help with flexibility and muscle strengthening.

The Plum Senior Community Center on Center New Texas Road also offers tai chi classes.

Currently, a beginning class conducted by instructor Jim Davis is on Wednesdays through Jan. 9. Classes take place at 7:30 p.m.

Ainsworth said another benefit of tai chi for arthritis sufferers is that many times they can reduce the medication they are taking for the disease.

“It (tai chi) has such great effects,” Ainsworth said.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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