Better Health Through Aquatic Fitness
by Terri Mitchell
Within the last 20+ years, aquatic fitness has become mainstream (forgive the pun) in gyms, city pools, and private clubs. Participants of all ages and abilities love it because they can run, walk, jump and move in all directions without the joint impact; plus, there are positive mental components as well.
Women and men of all ages and abilities attend classes either year-round or seasonally. With a variety of class formats, varying knowledge and experience of instructors, and diverse participants, surely there is a class that answers the needs of different capabilities. At least, a chance to get in the water and move safely and have fun. Water allows the body to move in ways that one can’t on land, so it allows you to work out the kinks, even those which you might not know you have!
I asked the ladies and men in my aquatic fitness classes why they attended; the reasons why were similar. From post-surgery to arthritis, losing weight, and improved stamina, everyone praised the benefits of water exercise. Advantages ranged from overall better health to improved posture, balance, coordination, and stamina, just to name a few. Using the properties of water (e.g. buoyancy and hydrostatic pressure) and the water’s resistance (which can be enhanced further with resistant equipment) are key to effective aquatic exercise.
Those who have had a recent surgery and/or physical therapy may be ready to join a group to continue with a water exercise program. Moving in chest-deep water is less stressful to the weight bearing joints, resulting in less pain and more range of motion. A deep-water class, using a floatation belt for support and safely, allows for zero impact on affected joints such as ankles, knees and hips, as well as decompression for the spine. Exercising in any depth of water can produce cardiovascular benefits, based on the intensity performed.
Being able to move the body, increase circulation, and push against the water’s resistance creates a workout environment to improve stamina, muscle strength, body composition (when coupled with proper nutrition), and flexibility. All the components of fitness can be addressed!
Other benefits include improvements in posture and balance. While the water supports the partially submerged body, an instructor’s cues for upright posture are key to awareness and repetition of good alignment. Keeping the knees soft, shoulders down, abdominals braced, and sternum lifted are a few verbal cues that increase consciousness of good posture, which can be transferred onto land with seated, standing or walking. The turbulence of the water provides a challenge with balance. Changing direction, performing exercises on one leg, with eyes closed, or turning the head to the opposite side are a few ways to challenge balance in the water. I love it when a student tells me they ALMOST fell at home… but they didn’t because their balance had improved from activities in the pool.
The social side is another plus! Working alongside lots of energetic people and making good friends offers a sense of belonging to this special fitness community. But, keeping talking to a minimum is respectful to the instructor while she or he is giving directions. Celebrations, social events, and camaraderie are mental health benefits that are often an added bonus of group exercise classes.
Another one of my participants said, and many agree, “Aquafitness is not ‘exercise,’ it’s movement for the joy and benefit of movement itself. At the end of each class I’m elated. I have a renewed sense of personal accomplishment, self-esteem and satisfaction. The feeling that you did your personal best is one of the best rewards that comes from the process. Water fitness training has increased my overall productivity in life. I’ve lost weight and found more joy in life. Thanks to aquafitness, I have gained strength for life.”
Whether you choose to come to the water for joint protection or cardio training, fun or function, it is agreed by thousands that one can achieve better health through aquatic fitness.
Terri Mitchell is looking forward to pools opening in her community so she can get back into the water. A retired AEA Training Specialist of 25 years, Terri continues to teach group aquafitness classes, and a few continuing ed workshops. She enjoys making music playlists to celebrate all the days of our lives, and moving to the beat in shallow and deep water. In the meantime, she is keeping fit on terra firma and wishes everyone good health.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org