San Diego � In recognition of the growing popularity and effectiveness of water fitness, the upcoming IDEA World Fitness & Personal Trainer Convention® will offer extensive educational programming in this form of exercise. And one of the age groups benefiting the most from water exercise is older adults. Mary E. Sanders, MS, education director for WaterFit/Wave Aerobics and adjunct professor in the health ecology department at the University of Nevada at Reno, explains the benefits of water exercise for older adults:

1. Safety. Water provides a safe environment because exercisers can�t fall as easily in water as they can on land. In addition, since aquatic exercise is low- or nonimpact (depending on water depth), a pool workout won�t stress the joints. Water also has a cooling effect. Exercisers can control the intensity of their workouts without the stresses of gravity or overheating -- and yet still get a cardiovascular workout and manage their weight.

2. Quality of Life. For older adults who are inactive or have chronic conditions, daily living can prove challenging. By performing real life patterns of movement in the water, older adults can improve their quality of life on land.

3. Everyday Function. When previously sedentary women in their 70s completed a 16-week program of water exercise designed to improve their abilities on land, the results were positive. The women increased their stride length and walking speed; developed greater dynamic balance and agility; and improved their ability to climb stairs and move from sitting to standing. Both body fat and medication use decreased, and the women found it easier to perform their daily tasks (Sanders et al., 1997, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 29 [5]).

4. General Health. Research has shown that regular water exercise offers older adults significant benefits in terms of general health. For example, after training 3 days a week for 12 weeks, one group (average age = 65.2 years) showed improvements in oxygen capacity and resting heart rate; participants also made significant gains in upper-body muscular endurance and in their total-to-HDL cholesterol ratio (Ruoti, Troup & Berger, 1994, Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, 19 [3]).

5. Rheumatoid Arthritis. Water can be a wonderful exercise environment for people with rheumatoid arthritis. After 8 weeks of warm water training, older adults with rheumatic disease felt less pain, enjoyed more motion in their joints and found it easier to perform daily living activities (Templeton, Booth & O�Kelly, 1996, Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, 23 [6]).

6. Osteoarthritis. Aquatic exercise can also help people with osteo arthritis. A study involving middle-aged to older women with this condition found that water training improved mobility, walking, bending and the ability to perform household tasks (Norton et al., 1997, Journal of Physical Therapy, 5 [3]).


7. Emotional Well Being. Exercising in the water can lift your spirits! In two of the studies already mentioned (Sanders et al. 1997; Norton et al. 1997), participants reported that their mood improved over the course of the program. In the first of these, the women said their self-esteem improved and they felt happier. In the second, subjects reported less tension. In other research, water exercise provided lasting emotional benefit to people with chronic rheumatoid arthritis (Hall et al., 1996, Arthritis Care and Research, 9 [3]).

8. Cardiovascular Health. Water-based exercise can be lots of fun, but it can also do the heart good in other ways. By exercising in shallow water for 45 minutes 4 times a week, healthy older adults can meet the American College of Sports Medicine�s guidelines for cardio-respiratory and weight management training.

9. Strength. Water is 800 times denser than air. That means movements performed at an average speed in water meet with approximately 12 to 15 times as much resistance as similar movements performed in air. What�s more, the harder an exerciser pushes in the water, the more resistance she or he feels. The great benefit of resistance is that it helps build strength!

10. Circulation. When exercisers stand in approximately 5 feet of water, the water�s pressure aids circulation and helps reduce swelling all over the body, especially in the feet (Lawton & Coberly, 2000, Orthopedic Technology Review, 2 [11]).

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