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By Sharon Naylor

May 11, 2017 5 min read

If you're like most seniors, your physician has encouraged you to get plenty of exercise for your cardiovascular, muscular and emotional health. And if you're like many seniors who take this advice to heart, you will likely explore different forms of exercise to see which interest you most. "I thought about joining an aerobics class again, like I did so many years ago and haven't done in ages," says 74-year-old retired teacher Frieda Willis. "I looked at aerobics classes online but thought they would be too hard for me, too hard on my knees. Then a friend told me about the water aerobics class at her YMCA. I tried it, and I'm hooked on exercise again!"

The natural buoyancy of water protects the body from as much impact as would be experienced in on-land exercises, which is good for seniors whose mobility and pain levels are affected by such conditions as arthritis and neuropathy. The Arthritis Foundation, in fact, has been hosting aquatic classes at gyms and hospitals for decades. The organization reports that the warmth and buoyancy of the water beckons those with bone, joint and muscle issues to participate. With regular participation, seniors can experience a reduction in pain; improved mobility; improved dexterity; increased metabolism; improved reaction time; better moods; and a sense of fun and social connection. Water fitness activities also help slow down age-related loss of muscle mass.

One very important additional benefit is increased stability, which can help prevent falls. Christine Stanley, National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified personal trainer, marathoner, running coach, and Athletics and Fitness Association of America-certified instructor, says, "Preventing falls is one of the primary reasons why exercise is so important as you get older. Falls are the most common cause of hip fractures and brain injuries. Improving core strength and stability through balance, coordination and agility exercises is a key component in reducing chances of falling and allowing senior population to maintain health and independence."

"Exercise in the water allows core stabilization and a sense of control while performing functional leg exercises such as knee lifts and extension. The water acts as a natural resistance resulting in no impact, protecting joints and easing arthritic pain," says Stanley. "Exercises that focus on hip and leg strengthening and range of motion help (address) weaknesses that reduce the ability to lift the foot."

Here are some of the many water-based movement activities and classes to consider:

--Swimming. Use your choice of breaststroke, backstroke or butterfly, perhaps alternating strokes to keep your daily swims varied. If your town or club pool has swimming lanes, check to see if the pool opens for lap swimming earlier than their public hours for more convenient exercise time.

--Pool walking or jogging. Hold the edge and wear water shoes for extra stability and traction, and consider adding some hand weights.

--Flutter kicking. Hold onto a kickboard and flutter kick your legs behind you.

--Water aerobics.

--Water-based tai chi. This gentle exercise gets an extra sense of flow while you're in the water.

--Wall-positioned pushups. Stand a distance from the wall and do pushups while standing for arm, back and core exercises. "I was very happy to say to my friends that I can do 25 pushups," says Willis. "It made me feel confident and excited to get back in the pool the next day to keep going."

--Weightlifting. Using specialized weights for in-pool use, muscle mass can be improved, as can cardiovascular health and metabolism. Seniors can experience a boost in muscle strength due to the added resistance of the water, as compared to land-based weightlifting.

--Leg lifts and squats. Again, like Willis, you may find yourself able to do more than you would on land.

--Arm circles and extensions for upper-body fitness.

--Water Zumba classes.

Your safety in any fitness endeavor, particularly one that has you in water, is paramount. Be aware of your limits, never work out alone (it's not as fun, anyway), and speak with your doctor about how your medications and overall fitness mesh with water aerobics.

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