By: Ron Zacker
Although it may seem as though the medical community cannot agree on anything at times, physicians are in agreement on at least one thing: practice the motto “first do no harm” when treating patients.
Perhaps that is why doctors have embraced water exercise as the activity of choice for many of their patients. Indeed, it’s extremely difficult to break a hip while partially submerged in a pool of water. But, as you’re about to see, there’s a lot to like about water fitness besides its safety factor.
But I Don’t Swim
Swimming is a terrific workout. But for some, swimming conjures up images of sharks, drowning or, worse yet, Speedos.
The good news is you don’t need any swimming skills whatsoever to exercise in the water. You don’t even have to tread water or go under water. Don’t worry, you won’t drown (most water fitness classes take place in water that is three to five feet deep). Further, you can be quite certain there will be no sharks to contend with at your local YMCA. (Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the Speedos, as an occasional pair may present themselves at some point during your water fitness endeavors.)
There are numerous benefits unique to water exercise, but its most celebrated attribute is the low-impact nature of the activity.
When submerged in water up to your waist, your body only has to support about 50 percent of its weight. If you go a little deeper, say to your neck, your body will only be responsible for shoring up 10 percent of its mass. This is possible, of course, due to the buoyant nature of our bodies in water. Reducing the load on the joints, muscles and other structures in the body means less jarring, aches and pain. It also makes this exercise ideal for patients with pre-existing injuries or conditions such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and obesity. It can also benefit otherwise healthy individuals looking for a temporary escape from the pounding of their land workouts.
In addition to offsetting the effects of gravity, working out in water can offer resistance-exercise-like benefits that are not achieved during more traditional activities such as walking or biking. Because water is denser than air, certain movements in water can be performed in a manner that provides anaerobic (strength training) work. This type of training is needed to preserve muscle mass, which will ultimately preserve your metabolism and functional capacity as you age. In this way, water exercise provides a good start for those who aren’t ready to start lifting weights. Working out against the resistance of the water also means that it takes more energy to perform the movements, meaning you burn more calories.
Improvements in flexibility can also be realized while in the pool. Your joints move more easily through a wider range of motion, in most instances.
Remember that prolonged inactivity not only leads to poor endurance and a weakened physical condition from the loss of muscle mass, but it decreases your range of motion while perpetuating joint stiffness. This “use-it-or-lose-it” scenario is especially true for arthritis sufferers. Water exercise may be the perfect solution to breaking this vicious cycle without breaking anything else.
A Pleasant Exercise Environment
Unlike traditional “aerobics” classes that take place on land, water aerobics is generally much more comfortable. Instead of being confined to a cramped, stuffy dance studio, you’re immersed in a refreshing pool of water. Being submerged in water offers one last benefit for those bashful participants: more discretion than most other modes of exercise.
Okay It’s Safe, But Is It Effective?
With regular participation in water exercise, individuals can significantly increase muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and cardiorespiratory conditioning and decrease their body-fat levels. However, you can’t attend three classes a month and expect progress, which will only occur with persistent effort.
Colleagues of mine have reported 100-pound-plus weight losses in clients using water exercise as their exclusive means of physical activity. My most memorable water-exercising client was able to shed over 45 pounds in five months by spending one hour, five times a week in the pool. She committed to it, worked hard and saw results.
Everyone in the Water
If you push yourself, a water workout is challenging, fun and therapeutic on many levels for people of all different ages, shapes and sizes. When it comes to safe, aerobic exercise, nothing beats the water.
Ron Zacker is employed as a diabetes-care manager with Kaiser-Permanente and as an exercise consultant with Fitness-Wize. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.