Millie’s annual trip to her primary doctor usually ends with the suggestion that she be more active. At 79 years old, she is happy with having enough energy to make it to the doctor. Arthritis and other aches and pains keep Millie planted in her overstuffed recliner. She knows that exercise will be good for her. It just hurts. Millie and other seniors looking for low-impact exercise just need to get wet. Water exercises are effective for staying active. Check with your local community center or YMCA to find what facilities and classes are available for seniors starting water exercise programs. There are many reasons that older adults should hit the pool.
Water exercise is less painful because there is less stress on the joints. The weight of a human body is reduced up to 90% in water, depending on the depth. Buoyancy reduces pressure on the joints and allows the body to move freely with less pain. This improves circulation and reduces inflammation.
Water exercise can also help reduce the risk of falling. Fall risk increases as we age, and water exercise can strengthen a senior’s ability to stand straight and maintain equilibrium. Fear of falling is reduced in the water, so older adults can confidently work toward their strength and balance exercise goals.
Finally, water exercises have the same benefits as regular exercise. Health benefits include increased energy levels, improved mental clarity, improved heart function, better range of motion, increased strength, balance and mood.
Now that you know that aquatic exercise is good for seniors, here are some simple exercises to try in the water.
Water walking is terrific for posture and improving muscle tone. Be sure to walk with good posture and with feet flat like you would outside of the pool. The most benefit is achieved when walking in waist-deep water. As you build endurance, look into water walking at a local water park with a lazy river attraction. Walking against the current will challenge you even more.
Water jogging is a great aerobic activity to get your blood pumping. It is designed to increase your heart rate rather than concentrate on balance or strength. You can jog from one side of the pool to the other, or you can even jog in place. Waist deep water is also best for water jogging.
Flutter kicking is another easy aerobic activity in the water. You can do it with a kickboard or at the side of the pool. If you use a kickboard, hold it straight out in front of you and flutter kick across the pool. You can also hold onto the side of the pool and kick; just make sure your arms are not held at too high an angle to prevent shoulder pain. Either way, maintain a steady pace and don’t overdo it. Building slowly and maintaining an increased heart rate will result in the best benefit to your health.
Leg lifts use every muscle in your legs when you use the resistance of the water. Stand in the pool and lift one leg out to the side and back down. Repeat this action with one leg until you tire, and then switch legs. Hold on to the side of the pool if you need to steady yourself. Leg lifts strengthen your core, legs and help to improve balance.
In this exercise, go to the corner of the pool and grab the sides of the pool with your arms facing the water. Lift your legs like you are sitting and hold the pose for a few seconds and repeat. This works your abdominal muscles and also helps to improve posture.
Arm circles should be completed in water deep enough so that only your head and neck are above the surfaces. Raise both arms out to the side and make circular motions with them going forward. Do this for 15-20 seconds. Then move your arms backward in a circular motion. The water’s resistance will get those arm muscles stronger than ever.
Standing water push-ups will work the back, chest and shoulder muscles. Stand in the water facing the side of the pool, and put your hands flat against the side in front of you.
Lean into the wall while bending both arms at the elbow. Slowly push back into your original standing position. Repeat 10-15 times or until you are tired.
Remember to be safe in the water. Check with your doctor before you try any exercise program. Always do water exercises with someone else, and know your limits. If you aren’t a good swimmer, be sure to stay in the shallow end of the pool. With the right precautions and a positive attitude, water exercise is fun. So fun that Millie may rather stay in the pool than her recliner.
Center for Disease Control. Health Benefits of Water Exercise. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/health_benefits_water_exercise.html. Accessed June 17, 2021.