Pools offer both fitness, relief for older adults

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While drinking plenty of water is critical to life, health and healing, simply submerging your body in water (i.e., a pool) opens up opportunities for relief and fitness for those who otherwise may have difficulty exercising.

This is especially important for aging adults and those with chronic conditions, said Denver physical therapist Patrick Donovan.

“When our bodies are submerged in water, such as in a pool, we become lighter,” said Dr. Donovan, owner of Heather Lane Physical Therapy in Denver. “This lightness, coupled with the natural resistance water places on movement, makes water exercise ideal for people who deal with issues related to strength, balance, sore joints, pain, and even chronic conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis.”

The buoyancy of waist-deep water can support about half our body weight, while neck-deep water can reduce body weight by up to 90 percent. Such reduction in weight and impact on the joints can help people who experience difficulty standing, balancing and exercising on land to move more freely – and often with less pain.

In addition, water offers 12 times the resistance of the air around us. Because of this added resistance, movement and exercise while submerged in a pool helps build overall strength and stability in the body. “This makes pool exercise ideal for the aging adult whose goal is to maintain a strong, stable and healthy body, ensuring they’re able to keep up with their active lifestyles outside the pool,” Dr. Donovan said. “A warm pool can both soothe muscles and joints to keep you strong and in optimal health.”

One study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed that older women who regularly participated in a pool-based exercise program performed better in daily tasks than others who exercised similarly on land. The women in the study improved their walking speed by 16 percent, their agility by 20 percent, and their ability to walk stairs by 22 percent.

According to Dr. Donovan, even when people suffer from common chronic diseases like arthritis and osteoporosis, water exercise can help improve the use of affected joints while decreasing overall pain.

“Aquatic exercise also applies to people recovering from injury or surgery,” Dr. Donovan said. “With the guidance of a physical therapist, the pool can be an effective rehabilitative tool for helping people recover while improving strength, confidence and function.”

Those who feel pool exercise or aquatic therapy may help them improve fitness levels or overall functional abilities should first contact their physical therapist for professional guidance. A physical therapist, like Dr. Donovan, can help identify your greatest weaknesses and needs, then determine if a pool fitness plan is right for your needs and personal goals.

The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with Heather Lane Physical Therapy or another qualified healthcare provider. 

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