Many seniors have found that working out in the water is an excellent way to improve their overall well-being, from providing a variety of physical benefits to offering social time and a trip out of the house. The unique properties of water provide seniors with the opportunity to get relief from painful physical conditions such as arthritis and circulatory problems while deriving the benefits of low-impact exercise in an environment that minimizes the risk of injury.
Cardiovascular exercise and weight loss are common benefits of any type of aerobic exercise, but exercising while submerged in water provides some distinct advantages that set aquatic exercise apart from land-based activity. Age-related joint conditions like arthritis can be a painful impediment to a senior’s capability (and enthusiasm) for exercising. But water-based exercise puts significantly less stress on joints, allowing them to enjoy these activities for longer periods of time, and can also provide some relief from these chronic conditions. Swimming can also be relaxing and meditative, which may offer some stress relief, adding to its cardiovascular benefits.
The Physical Benefits of Water Exercise
Cardio: It doesn’t matter if a senior is water-jogging or swimming—using the water to get their heart rate up will increase aerobic capacity, burn fat, and decrease their risk for heart disease.
Balance: Reduced muscle tone and vision loss can affect senior coordination and increase their risk of falling. Aquatic exercise is a great way to help improve balance. Doing specific balance exercises in water helps build strength and coordination. Water provides the ideal environment for this type of exercise, safely allowing for a loss of balance, since their water-induced buoyancy will prevent them from falling.
Strength: Working with water “bar bells” or wrist bands can provide a great form of resistance-training which help build muscle strength and endurance without injury.
Work Out and Get Out
Socializing is an overlooked added benefit of many types of senior group activity, and aquatic exercise is a prime opportunity to get out of the isolation of the home and into a social environment—and in the case of outdoor pools, enjoying some sun (with sun protection, of course). Studies have shown that the opportunity to socialize is one of the key reasons elderly people will maintain a successful exercise program. Group exercise classes provide an ideal opportunity for conversation. Whether that be an exercise class, individual standing exercises, or swimmers using kickboards to kick side-by-side, there are many opportunities in the pool to socialize.
If you haven’t been swimming in a while, start slowly. Try swimming laps for just five to ten minutes while coordinating your breathing, strokes, and kicking. A pair of well-fitting goggles is a must. A less strenuous option is just walking or running in water. Water aerobics classes are offered at a variety of levels, and often specifically for seniors. Check out your local senior center, community center, or YMCA for their Summer offerings for seniors.
Contributed by Caren Parnes