Determined to improve your fitness for the New Year? You may be considering joining a gym, taking some skiing weekends, starting yoga or simply resolving to take a daily walk. Don’t forget to check out your nearest indoor pool—or outdoor pool if you live in a warm enough climate.
People who suffer from a number of conditions can benefit from swimming and other water exercises, according to Dr. Patrick Donovan, owner of Heather Lane Physical Therapy in Denver.
“When our bodies are submerged in water, we become lighter,” Dr. Donovan explains. “This lightness, coupled with the natural resistance water places on movement, makes water exercise ideal for people who face issues related to strength, balance, sore joints or pain, even when the cause is a chronic condition such as arthritis or 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. If you have difficulty with standing, balancing or exercising, water’s reduction in weight and impact on the joints can help you move more freely, and often with less pain, than you do on land.
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.
“Pool exercise is a very good choice for the aging adult who wants to maintain a strong, stable and healthy body,” Dr. Donovan adds. “A warm pool can soothe muscles and joints to keep you strong and in optimal health so you can continue with an active lifestyle outside the pool.”
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.
“Aquatic exercise also benefits people recovering from injury or surgery,” Dr. Donovan notes. “With the guidance of a physical therapist, the pool can be an effective rehabilitative tool for helping people recover while improving their strength, confidence and function.”
If you feel that pool exercise or aquatic therapy may help you improve your fitness levels or overall functional abilities, first contact your physical therapist for professional guidance. After identifying your weaknesses and needs, a PT can determine whether a pool fitness plan is right for you.