So you’ve never been an athlete. There are still ways to stay fit or get fit in the water at every age.
“It’s a fairly effective way of improving fitness in older adults,” said Michael E. Rogers, PhD, Director of the Center for Physical Activity and Aging at Wichita State University. “There can be things they avoid doing on land out of fear of falling, but the fear is reduced substantially in water.”
Summer is a perfect time to explore your neighborhood pool to cool off, meet new friends, and either swim or practice water exercises.
“Older women may have chronic or age-related conditions that increase the risk of falls or that limit their ability to remain active,” Dr. Rogers and his co-authors noted in a 2013 study on the impact of water exercising on activities of daily living. The results of the study indicated that a specific method of water-based exercises led to “significant improvements in ADL and static balance.” (ADL =Activities of Daily Living)
To Swim or Not to Swim
When it comes to a workout in the water there are two choices: swimming or water exercises. The big difference is being horizontal or being vertical. Also, in swimming you are striving to reduce resistance to increase speed and in water exercise you want to increase resistance to build strength.
“The benefit of water exercise over swimming is that you don’t need to know how to swim to do water exercises and the skill level for those is non-existent,” Dr. Rogers said. “This opens up this form of exercising to a much wider audience.”
Both swimming and water exercise have similar benefits though: minimal impact on joints, good for people living with arthritis, and cardiovascular workout.
There can be reasons to partake in water activities beyond the physical too.
“We have found that one of the primary reasons older people exercise is for the social benefit,” he said. “Maybe someone is living alone and they just don’t see people throughout the day. If they do water exercise in a group setting, there is the potential for improvement in feelings of self-worth.”
Left, Right, Left, Right
Anybody can do exercises in the water, even without a formal program or class to lead them.
Dr. Rogers suggests these simple water exercises:
- Jogging or walking in place or, if there is a large enough area that is waist to chest deep, walk or jogging in the water around the pool.
- To improve balance, lean to one side or the other standing on both feet. For more of a challenge, life one leg and lean to each side, then put that leg down and do the other side.
- To improve strength, open up your hands as big as possible and move your arms throughout the water.
There can be a “surf to turf” goal with water exercise in that a person can improve their balance and reduce their falls risks and then begin doing a fitness program on land instead or in addition to their water workout.
Working out in the water can be a gentle and safe way to build of strength and balance, either to prevent injury or to heal from an injury at any age.