The Surprising Health Benefits of Water Aerobics for Seniors

By |2023-04-07T18:48:52+00:00April 7th, 2023|Aging, Wellness|

You don’t need us to tell you that exercise is good for you.

Still, water aerobics in particular has some unique qualities and benefits that make it perfect for maintaining an active senior lifestyle. You’ve probably seen it before if you’ve ever frequented a public pool: people using foam barbells that couldn’t weigh more than a few pounds, doing laps with kickboards, occasionally doing strange exercises with pool noodles. It’s certainly an interesting workout, but what benefits of water aerobics make them stand out compared to exercises like dancing, or even just being active outside?

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A Surprising Impact

Greyscale image of a person holding their knee in pain. Knee joins are highlighted in red to indicate pain.

You’ve probably heard people call water aerobics a “low impact exercise”, but you might not know what that means. In this context, it has nothing to do with the workout’s intensity or efficacy, but the effect it has on your joints. 

See, human locomotion is dependent on the cooperation between our joints and muscles, and different exercises put strain on different parts of the body. For muscles, a healthy amount of strain is good: muscle cells regenerate, which is how they grow stronger. For joints, this isn’t the case. While our joints have some regenerative properties when we’re young, as we age our ability to recover from joint injury fades. As such, workouts that put a lot of strain on the joints aren’t advised for seniors, especially if you have arthritis or a similar condition.

While there are many low-impact exercises, water aerobic exercises have unique features that make it stand, or rather float above the crowd.

The Power of Buoyancy

Senior floating on inflatable lounge in ocean.

Buoyancy refers to the ability of an object, like the human body, to float in water.  Human buoyancy varies depending on body mass and composition, but humans with full lung capacity tend to float even in freshwater. This is why you often experience a sensation of weightlessness in water: the physical mass and pressure of the water on your body ‘cancels out’ the force of gravity. It’s not true weightlessness, but it does remove much of the pressure on your joints and muscles. 

It does, however, place pressure on your blood vessels, which is a good thing! Much like compression clothing, the constant pressure of water on the body helps with blood flow, which reduces strain on the heart. People with heart conditions should still consult a doctor prior to beginning an exercise program, however. 

The mass of water also provides resistance: liquid water is considerably denser than air, and thus more difficult to move through. However, because it slows our motion, it’s difficult to shock our joints while submerged. Try throwing a punch next time you’re in a pool: unless you’re a mantis shrimp (shout out to all our mantis shrimp readers!) it’s probably not going to do much. This also provides passive, natural strength training, which many purely aerobic exercises often fail to address. 

An Ocean’s Worth of Possibility

Senior using pool noodle for water aerobics.

Another benefit of water aerobics for seniors is the variety of exercises you can undertake. In addition to swimming, you can also try: 

  • Aquajogging
  • Cycling
  • Yoga
  • Zumba
  • Weight Training (many aquatic weights rely on buoyancy and water resistance to work, so they’re much easier to move and store than traditional weights).

This leads to a much more holistic approach to exercise than simply walking, which in turn can improve your strength, stamina, balance, and cardiovascular health.

But I don’t have a pool! Where can I do water aerobics near me?

Group of seniors gathered in circle in pool

You don’t need much water to do water aerobics. For shallow water classes, the water only needs to reach your chest or shoulders. If you have access to an in-ground swimming pool, even if it’s a relatively small one, that’ll be more than sufficient. However, access to a swimming pool can be a bit difficult in some places, especially during the winter months.

Fortunately, there’s an inexpensive way to access water aerobics classes for Medicare Advantage members. SilverSneakers, which is included in many Medicare Part C plans, grants access to fitness centers across the country, including ones with indoor swimming pools. They also offer senior-focused classes led by trained instructors. If you don’t have access to SilverSneakers, many community centers also offer water aerobics classes, and they’re a common activity in retirement communities.

If this is your first time doing water aerobics, it’s strongly recommended that you seek out one of these classes. Performing any aquatic activity unsupervised, especially a strenuous one, isn’t a good idea. Your instructor will not only help you keep your proper form, but the on-duty lifeguard can help in case of an emergency.

It’s also important to use a pool specifically. While you can do water aerobics in a natural body of water, there are some pretty big caveats. In the ocean, the salt content can affect your buoyancy, which can throw off your balance if you’re not used to it. The tides also pose a risk: swim out too far and you could end up in a riptide. 

Ponds, rivers, and lakes are a bit safer, but still not the best idea. The water there is untreated, and may be exposed to toxic runoff that seniors with weakened immune systems should avoid. Depending on where you live, you might also encounter dangerous wildlife. Alligators are cool, but you don’t want one as a workout buddy. 

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