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Style · April 1, 2013

Exercise becomes survival key for Warrenton woman

Contributed Photo
Alicia Arden before she started losing weight.
Contributed Photo
Mrs. Arden after losing 148 pounds.
Contributed Photo
Mrs. Arden working with Monica Fernandi, her personal trainer, at the WARF.
My knees were in such pain. When I just walked, the pain was so hurtful, and my joints were so swollen. I had to do something. Three doctors were telling me you either have to do something, get the weight off, or you’re just killing your body . . . . I think it was a do or die situation.
— Alicia Arden
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Staff Journalist
She can be found five nights a week at the Warrenton Aquatic and Recreation Facility, participating in everything from yoga to zumba to jab kick core classes.

“If you can’t, you must,” reads the quote on Alicia Arden’s hot pink headband. It has become one of her mottos.

Mrs. Arden exercises to survive.

Doctors told the Warrenton resident she would not be able to walk normally again if she didn’t lose weight.

“My knees were in such pain. When I just walked, the pain was so hurtful, and my joints were so swollen. I had to do something,” the 49-year-old explains. “Three doctors were telling me you either have to do something, get the weight off, or you’re just killing your body.

“I had no choice. I think it was a do or die situation.”

After getting diagnosed in 2008 with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease, Mrs. Arden joined Weight Watchers, losing 50 pounds by altering her diet. But the weight came back.

In 2010, she joined the WARF after a suggestion from her doctors, Jennifer and Michael Akerman.

With no cartilage in her left knee and damaged leg muscles and joints, a condition aggravated by her RA, starting to exercise proved painful. Mrs. Arden began with water classes and the first aqua boot camp, working on strengthening her muscles.

“I couldn’t even walk in the pool; it hurt. Even at home I could only go up and down the stairs once a day. I was limited,” said Mrs. Arden, who also has epilepsy.

In January 2011, she took the next step and hired Monica Fernandi as her personal trainer at the WARF.

Another of Mrs. Arden’s mottos, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” came from her personal trainer. She credits Mrs. Fernandi for appearing when she needed help the most.

After a few more water exercise sessions, Mrs. Fernandi began training her on solid surfaces, asking her to count the number of steps she took while walking around the track, challenging her more every week.

Admitting she wants to give up some days, Mrs. Arden she keeps a positive attitude.

“She will tell me when her knees hurt, and she will show up anyway,” Mrs. Fernandi says. “She just backs off and listens to her body, but she’s never given into it. There are people who (will not show up and) will blame the weather and not even have the pain that this woman has.”

Since this January, Mrs. Arden has met twice a month with Alice Maher, a holistic health counselor from Looking Glass Natural Health in Warrenton, to balance her nutrition and health.

“I believe that we have to look at the whole picture — nutrition, physical movement, career, relationships, spirituality, just to name a few,” Mrs. Maher explains. “When we look at the whole picture, we are all different, we started to look at all those holistic aspects of her life and healing everything.”

Yoga is Mrs. Arden’s favorite class.

“It really touches my heart,” she says. “It’s a class that really brings a lot of spiritual meaning to me. It’s all about the peacefulness behind it. I can just let go.”

Mrs. Arden’s dedication comes from the support of her husband Tony, who drives her to classes, Mrs. Fernandi, her personal trainer, and many others who have helped her along the way.

Over the past three years, with support, exercise and dietary adjustments, she has lost and kept off 148 pounds.

“I have lost over 30 inches off my body. I was a size 34 and I am size 12-14,” says Mrs. Arden, who works for Fairfax County government.

Her goals include getting down to a size 6 or 8 and a weight of 140 pounds.

“Right now, I feel the best I’ve felt in years. Health-wise, I went to the doctor Tuesday, and she said I’m in perfect health, blood pressure, cholesterol . . . . She told me just to keep doing what I’m doing, exercising, loosing weight,” Mrs. Arden says. “I’ve never felt so good. Even though there are days when I’m still in some pain, I’ve never felt so motivated, wanting to exercise.”

She hopes that her sharing her story will encourage others to exercise. She eventually would like to become a certified fitness instructor in zumba and other classes.

“I want to be into fitness, help teach those who are in the same boat as I am, with arthritis issues. I want to help people in their golden age stay fit and exercise,” she explains.
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