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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Derby hospital teaches fitness through fun

Instructor Maureen Helgren blows bubbles at the beginning of Friday’s Healthy Steps class at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby. Patricia Villers/Register

By Patricia Villers
pvillers@nhregister.com / Twitter: @nhrvalley


DERBY— The only requirement to be part of a females-only exercise class at Griffin Hospital is a willingness to have fun.

At least that’s what it felt like Friday morning when I stepped into the conference room at the hospital’s Center for Cancer Care.

Instructor Maureen Helgren was busy blowing up beach balls and chatting as women walked in for the once a week Healthy Steps class.

I was one of 10 women who took part in the program that featured slow and almost meditative exercises. It was not what I had imagined.
We followed Helgren as she moved in a way that reminded me of my aerobics classes from decades past, only slower.

The atmosphere was relaxing and pressure free.

I was urged to go by two women in a strength-training class I attend Tuesday nights as part of a survivorship program launched late last year at Griffin Hospital.

The class is led by Dan Root, a personal trainer who specializes in working with cancer survivors. I daresay I enjoy going to it for exercise and a bit of socializing.

Helgren is an associate professor of physical therapy at Quinnipiac University and chairman of the physical therapy department. She said she has been leading the class for four years.

After she inflated the beach balls Helgren started by blowing bubbles, and having us do the same. The activity was not only fun but relaxing. In the background James Taylor was singing “Up on the Roof.”
That was one of several songs Helgren played for us as we went through a variety of slow stretches and routines.

“Grace is not needed in this class,” she said. “Everything we do is really slow on purpose.”

Helgren said the slowness is “because it’s morning and also because going slow is better for our muscles.”

Helgren follows the Lebed method of exercise, which is defined on Griffn Hospital’s website as “a movement and dance program that integrates physical therapy and psychosocial support.”

“Beneficial for women who have been diagnosed with cancer or a chronic illness. Particularly helpful for women during the post-op recovery phase after having breast cancer surgery,” the website states.

Surprisingly, some of the women I spoke with said they don’t have cancer but were there to enjoy the exercise with a friend who has had breast cancer.

Seymour resident Mary Jezierny, who has not had breast cancer, said, “When Mo (Helgren) was away we did it ourselves. We took turns being the leader.”

Now that’s dedication.

Shelton resident Terri Biasi called the class “our Friday let-it-all-out” time.

She added, “It’s a nice group. We share and support each other.”

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