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Build Muscle and Gain Better Balance Through Water Exercise

By Lisa M. Davila, B.S.N., M.S.
December 8, 2022
Two women in a swimming pol

The relaxing feeling of gliding through warm water is more than just a stress reliever. Water aerobics may be one of the easiest, safest, and most enjoyable ways to improve your health.

Proven benefits

A 2021 review of over 60 studies found that water aerobics can yield measurable health benefits, especially for older adults with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. People who exercise regularly in water demonstrate improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle strength, balance, flexibility, and mobility, in addition to reporting less chronic pain and better overall quality of life.

"Water aerobics can give you all the benefits of the best exercise machines," says Teresa Reymann-Curran, fitness manager at Charlestown, an Erickson Senior Living community in Catonsville, Md. "Moving your body in the water adds some resistance, which gives your heart a surprisingly good workout. It's also a gentle way to build and maintain your muscles."

She continues, "Warm water soothes and refreshes your skin, and your joints don't sustain the stress of weight bearing that you'd typically experience when exercising outside of the water. In addition, you can improve your range of motion and flexibility with less pain, which is even more rewarding if you are recovering from an injury or surgery."

Studies also show that water aerobics are great for mental health, as people report less stress and anxiety and elevated mood. "Plus, in a class setting, you can meet other people and socialize!" notes Reymann-Curran.

A safe way to exercise

Compared to some other forms of physical activity, water tends to make exercising safer for older adults. For example, traditional muscle-strengthening exercises using weights can be harsh on soft tissues such as tendons, ligaments, and muscles.

"The gentle resistance water provides forces you to pace yourself, so you can strengthen your muscles with less likelihood of strains or sprains," Reymann-Curran says.

"In a pool, you are less likely to fall and get injured," she adds. "If you stumble, it is easier to regain your balance - you can use pool noodles to stabilize yourself. Research shows that water exercise can help improve your balance, even when you are out of the water."

Design your own water workout

Exercising in water involves more choices than just swimming laps or joining a water aerobics class.

"Erickson Senior Living communities design water activities based on the preferences of residents," Reymann-Curran says. "Some people are more interested in structured classes; others may prefer an informal option, such as tossing around a beach ball with a few friends."

And, you do not have to be enrolled in a class or program to use a community's pool. "Maybe you'd rather swim a few laps on your own schedule!" Reymann-Curran says. "We have water-based activities available for non-swimmers, too."

Like any other physical activity, water exercise can help you establish a fitness routine and has psychological and social benefits.

"Residents who use the pool at Charlestown say it relaxes them and gives them a sense of well-being. It helps them be more physically fit, more involved in community life, and better able to maintain their independence," she says.