By Dr. Mary Nole, Director of Saint Simeon’s Wellness Center
No pain, no gain – or so the saying goes. Contrary to popular belief, though, exercise does not have to hurt in order to be effective. Water exercise can be a pain-free, fun form of exercise for senior adults. In fact, water exercise has been known to alleviate rather than cause pain.
First off, let’s consider WHY we would want to exercise at all. As we age, our bodies unfortunately decline in a number of ways that most of us are all far too familiar with.
We lose muscular strength, our joints stiffen, and we generally have less vitality. Exercising is the absolute best way to reverse this “normal” deterioration.
Next, we must overcome the notion that exercise is painful and awful. If you’ve always dreaded exercise because of the straining and sweating associated with it, you will be delighted to discover that water exercise is much more enjoyable than typical forms of exercise! Because of the reduced amount of strain and fatigue you experience in water compared to land exercise, most people can exercise longer. If a 10-minute walk on a treadmill is your current limit, you will be delighted to know that you can probably exercise in water for 20 minutes or longer.
Two seemingly oppositional properties of water are responsible for the majority of its exercise benefits: buoyancy and viscosity. First, buoyancy decreases the forces of gravity on the joints, allowing a greater range of motion and assisting in the performance of exercises. Second, because water is “thicker” than air, it applies approximately 12 times greater resistance during exercise. So you get a greater strength-building benefit without undue stress and strain! Another benefit is the hydrostatic pressure applied to the body under water. Your muscles are working even when you aren’t aware of it!
Water exercise can be particularly beneficial for senior adults because it not only helps with normal aging processes, but it is also some of the best medicine to slow the effects of many chronic diseases. Conditions generally associated with aging include diabetes, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and heart disease. For those with chronic pain (such as that due to arthritis, fibromyalgia or back/spine issues) or individuals who have had a stroke may be good candidates for water exercise. Without the forces of gravity working against them, they can move limbs freely to exercise muscles, enjoy the relaxing effects of floating and increased range of motion, and maybe even walk when it is not possible on land.
If you’re interested in starting a water exercise program, you should first consult your doctor and make sure he or she approves a water exercise program. Next, find a place where you feel comfortable doing water exercise. This should be a location that is accessible for you and where the other exercisers work out at your intensity. You also want to find a pool where you will be motivated to go long-term; not just a few times; meaning you probably want to find a place that is convenient and enjoyable for you.
Once you start your water exercise program, try to participate about two to three times a week. Let your body tell you how often you should exercise, and remember, “no pain, no gain” is a misconception – water exercise can actually be FUN!