Stress Less with Aquatics
by Hannah Brown
It makes us feel vulnerable and anxious; sometimes it is almost unbearable. It’s stress… and it affects every one of us. It can disrupt our everyday lives, impact our ability to do work, and contribute to much greater health issues. Today, we live in a mindset that everything must be perfect. We think we must have every step of our lives figured out in this very moment. Will I get that job offer? Will I marry my 4-year sweetheart? Will I get to travel the world? Will I get into that graduate program? We are overthinking everything and it’s causing us much more harm than we realize. Thanks to aquatic exercise, stress is water soluble!
The short-term effects of stress include headaches, irritability, flu-like symptoms, abnormal heart rates and blood pressures and often, irregular sleep patterns (Bruin, Formsma, Bögels, 2016). We might think that “this is normal, everyone goes through it”, or “it’s just that stage of life.” Wrong. When we ignore symptoms because “everyone goes through it”, we may start to experience long-term effects. At this point, anxiety and depression creep in, we begin having relationship issues, and more significant health issues are noticed (e.g. a weakened immune system, cardiovascular disorders, and chronic illnesses.) Stress can interfere with our life at home, in the workplace, and even cognitive function (Crowe, Puymbroeck, Schmid, 2016).
Some may turn to substance abuse and others may continue to ignore the symptoms, but there is an alternative. Regular exercise and physical activity can greatly benefit us in a variety of ways, especially when we put those exercises into water.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m going to go workout to blow off some steam”? There’s a reason people generally feel better after exercise. Psychologically, exercise assists in improving feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, and fatigue. Physiologically, exercise contributes to healthy lifestyle, reducing the risk for developing chronic illnesses and diseases. Progressing up to 150 minutes of exercise a week can show significant improvements on the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, metabolic, and immune systems, along with many other benefits. Even a short bout of 10 minutes a day shows beneficial physiological adaptations.
Move your activities into the water and you have a low-impact, enjoyable workout that allows you to put in the necessary work without causing too much stress. Aquatic exercise programs are on the rise and for good reason. The water offers a gravity-reduced exercise environment ideal for rehabilitation, but that's not the only way water can provide benefit. Over the past decade, programs and techniques such as Bad Ragaz, aquatic Pilates, and aquatic yoga have been studied and used for relaxation. These various combinations of movements with focused breathing techniques can reduce stress, promote relaxation, as well as control blood pressure, heart rate, and boost immune function (Crowe, Puymbroeck, Schmid, 2016).
Bad Ragaz is a technique used in a supine position with the aid of buoyancy equipment and the resistance of the water. The aim of this technique is relaxation; however, it provides many other benefits such as spine decompression, reduction of muscle tone and spasm, increased range of motion, and even strengthening (Sherlock, 2017). The therapist will begin by taking you through a few passive movements and ask you to close your eyes, focus on your breathing and simply relax. He or she will then incorporate active movements into the upper extremity, lower extremity, and truck based on individualized needs.
Pilates is a program that focuses on flexibility, strength, and stamina (Sherlock, 2017). The six basic principles – breathing, concentration, control, centering, precision, and flow of movement – each play a role in a stress-free outcome. Pilates targets both mental focus and specific breathing patterns (Memmedova, 2016). Pilates can help improve posture, flexibility, and balance in a slow, controlled manner, while enhancing the feeling or relaxation.
It is suggested that one may gain physical, emotional and spiritual health through the practices of yoga (Prasad, Varrey, Sisti, 2016). Yoga is a series of techniques that incorporates breath control, postures, and meditation to improve health, wellness and, most importantly in relation to this article, relaxation. When you focus on breath control exercises, you can intentionally alter your breathing pattern to achieve mindful concentration. Through meditation, you enter a state that enables one to focus on the present moment, which then leads to a state of thoughtless awareness. These techniques significantly reduce levels of stress, anxiety and depression over time and have also been found to improve the overall quality of life (Prasad, Varrey, Sisti, 2016).
In conclusion, there are many different techniques which can aid you in reducing the stress in your life, including a variety of aquatic programs. As a multi-faceted option, aquatic exercise can offer rehabilitation, relaxation for stress and anxiety, improved fitness levels, and enhanced quality of life.
Crowe, B. M., M. Puymbroeck, and A. Schmid. 2016. Yoga as Coping: a conceptual framework for meaningful participation in yoga. International Journal of Yoga Therapy. July.
De Bruin, E.I., A.R. Formsma, G. Frijstein, G. and S. Bögels. 2017. Mindful2Work: Effects of combined physical exercise, yoga, and mindfulness meditations for stress relieve in employees. A proof of concept study. Mindfulness 8(1): 204-217.
Memmedova, K. 2014. Impact of Pilates on anxiety attention, motivation, cognitive function and achievement of students: Structural modeling. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 186: 544-548.
Mooventhan, A. and L. Nivethitha. 2014. Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body. North American Journal of Medical Sciences 6(5): 199-209.
Prasad, L., A. Varrey, and G. Sisti. 2016. Medical students’ stress levels and sense of well being after six weeks of yoga and meditation. Evidenced-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2016.
Sherlock, L. 2017. Lecture slides and material presented at WVU.
Hannah Brown is an Exercise Physiology student at West Virginia University with an emphasis in Aquatic Therapy. Upon graduating with her Bachelor of Science, she will apply for Physical Therapy School. After the completion of PT school, she plans to use her vast array of knowledge and aquatic-specific techniques to educate her patients and provide the appropriate care for improving ability levels and quality of life.