Many “Y”s and tness centers have water classes.
Even if you don’t swim, exercising in the water can improve your strength, balance, and cardiovascular fitness. And it’s easier on your joints.
Water has something for every exerciser. It provides an environment for a cardiovascular workout, support for balance exercise, and relief for aching joints. “The water is a great tool, whatever your goals or level of fitness,” says Dr. Diana Fischer, orthopedic clinical supervisor at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Institute.
Advantages of water exercise
Because of its density, water offers unique benefits as an exercise medium.
It affords support. By providing buoyancy, water takes the weight off your joints and allows you to work on the muscles that support them. It lets you perform stretches, lunges, and other exercises that may be difficult or painful to do on land. Water also lets you work on your balance without the fear of falling.
It provides compression. The pressure of water makes the heart’s work easier by helping to move blood from your feet and legs through your body. This can be especially beneficial if you have diabetes, varicose veins, lymphedema, or poor circulation.
It furnishes resistance. Water is heavier than air, so any movement under water requires more effort than it does on land. That makes water a good medium for a cardiovascular workout.
Find a pool that you can get to a couple of times a week. “Consistency is the key to success, just as it is with land exercise,” Dr. Fischer says. You’ll want to consider setting aside an hour or two for each session to allow for changing and showering in addition to the time you’re in the pool.
If you’re new to aquatic exercise, you’ll probably want to take a class or get individual instruction from a trainer. Any “Y” or health club with a pool is likely to offer several levels of water fitness exercise programs, either free or for a small charge to members. Many rehabilitation facilities have programs that are open to residents of the community—and they may also have at least one pool with warm water. Supervised programs are likely to provide flotation belts, dumbbells, or other devices you’ll use to exercise as well as advice on additional equipment, like water shoes or webbed gloves, that you may want to buy.
Talk to a trainer or instructor about setting a goal for pool exercise that helps you meet your goal on land—be it better balance or a stronger back. “The strength you develop in the pool isn’t the same as the strength you develop on land, because your muscles aren’t working against as much gravity,” Dr. Fischer says, “so you’ll want to supplement your water workout with land exercises, like walking and stretching.”