Pools aren't just for swimming and diving anymore. In fact, more land activities are starting to make a splash in the water—walking, running, aerobics, kickboxing, ballet, even yoga and Tai Chi.
Water workouts or aquatics are appealing to Baby Boomers in growing numbers. In fact, more than 10 million people are taking some kind of aquatics class and that number is growing.
Several factors make pool workouts a good alternative for older adults. "When the body is submerged in water, there is less weight to support. This allows for more intense workouts without incurring the usual wear and tear associated with ground based workouts," says Jason Riddell MS, CSCS, USAW. "Water is also more resistant than air, so a 30 minute pool workout is similar to a longer lasting ground based workout, without the usual impact forces."
For this reason, water workouts are great if you have a sports injury, a bad back, arthritis or joint problems, or other physical limitations. Plus an hour of brisk water walking can burn as many as 500 calories, about the same as running or walking a 10 to 11-minute mile.
Other potential benefits of water workouts include:
- Improving your posture, balance, and flexibility
- Increasing your strength and muscle tone since water provides natural resistance during your workout
- Reducing your risk of overheating during exercise
- Minimizing pain and increasing how freely you move
- Preventing you from falling
- Having fun
- Reducing risk of injury
Grab Some Pool Toys
Whether you sign up for a class at a community center, or create your own program, there are lots of props you can use to make workouts more fun and effective. A group aerobics class might include music and a platform or step. Depending on your workout, you also can include:
- Styrofoam dumbbells
- Hand paddles
- Beach balls
- Buoyancy belts
- "Noodles" (long, thin styrofoam tubes that keep you afloat)
Water workouts generally are safe for most people. But since water pressure on your body can initially spike your blood pressure, you should start in shallow water if your blood pressure is high.
Because water adds resistance to your movements, you also should be careful not to move too quickly or forcefully. This could overtax your bones and muscles.
Wearing aquatic shoes will improve your footing in and around the water and help prevent scrapes on your feet.
Following basic rules for physical activity will also keep your water workouts safe:
- Warm up your muscles before you work out, and cool them down afterward.
- Take it slowly and increase activity gradually – don't do too much too soon.
- Maintain proper posture and body alignment (your instructor can help with this).
- Monitor your exertion level (you should be able to carry on a conversation easily throughout your workout).
- Drink enough fluids. You still need to stay hydrated even in the water.
- Protect yourself if you're exercising in the sun. Wear sunscreen, tinted goggles or sunglasses, and a hat when you're not going under water.
Scoping Out Classes
If you decide to take a class, consider the following:
- What are the teacher's qualifications? Is the instructor trained to work with individuals who have health conditions? Does he or she have proper first aid training and experience teaching older adults?
- Is the pool well-maintained and lit? Is it clean? Are there objects around the pool that can cause you to trip? Are ladders and grab bars for entering and leaving the pool secure? Is there a lifeguard on duty? (You needn't know how to swim to take an aquatics class in shallower water.)
- Is the pool a comfortable temperature for you? People with joint problems should work out in warm water – between 85 and 90 degrees.
Whether you're looking for a change in your workout routine, giving overstressed or injured muscles a break, looking to burn calories or just looking to have fun and beat the heat, water workouts fit the bill year-round. So what are you waiting for? Grab your swimsuit!