Get ready to stretch with some gentle pool exercises


pool exercises

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Exercise is an important part of your life at any age, for maintaining both your physical and mental fortitude. As you get older, you need to be extra mindful about choosing an exercise program that works for you and your changing needs. If your joints need a little extra TLC, then consider heading to the pool this summer. There are many benefits to swimming, including improving health for those with diabetes and arthritis. The pool is also conducive to all kinds of workouts, including cardio and strength training.

The Arthritis Foundation praises water exercise for its ease on joints while providing added resistance for a great cardio workout. Texas-based aquatic instructor Vennie Jones spoke to the foundation about water walking, saying, “The water’s buoyancy supports the body’s weight, which reduces stress on the joints and minimizes pain…And it’s still a great workout. Water provides 12 times the resistance of air, so as you walk, you’re really strengthening and building muscle.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exercising in water “also improves or maintains the bone health of post-menopausal women.”

Ready to get your feet wet? Here are some pointers before you get started.


First steps

The Arthritis Foundation suggests starting with a simple walking routine for beginners and recommends that you take a swim walking class to learn proper form and safety protocols. If you are new to exercise or can’t swim, don’t worry, says the foundation, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • What you need: For deep-water walking, a flotation belt keeps you upright and floating at about shoulder height.
  • How it works: You’ll stand about waist- to chest-deep in water, unless you’re deep-water walking. Walk through the water the same way you would on the ground. Try walking backward and sideways to tone other muscles.
  • Try it: Stand upright, with shoulders back, chest lifted and arms bent slightly at your sides. Slowly stride forward, placing your whole foot on the bottom of the pool (instead of just your tiptoes), with your heel coming down first, then the ball of your foot. Avoid straining your back by keeping your core (stomach and back) muscles engaged as you walk.
  • Add intensity: Lifting your knees higher helps boost your workout. You also can do interval training — pumping arms and legs faster for a brief period, then returning to your normal pace, repeating the process several times.
  • Find a class: If you’re new to water exercises, an instructor can make sure your form is correct. Plus, it can be fun to walk with others. To find a class near you, call your local YMCA, fitness center or Arthritis Foundation office.
  • Stay safe: By exercising in a pool during the hot months, you’ll avoid problems that can accompany other outdoor summer workouts, such as heat exhaustion and dehydration. But you still need to drink water — even while keeping cool in the pool.

The Arthritis Foundation also makes several suggestions, such as choosing a suit with Velcro closures if you have trouble dressing or undressing with a typical swimsuit, utilizing props such as pool noodles for stability if necessary and, of course, progressing at a pace that works for your body’s specific needs and abilities.


Smooth moves

The University of Washington Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine offers some pool stretches, which are perfect for arthritis sufferers and aquatic exercise newcomers alike. These simple moves like elbow bends, spread eagle hip and wrist turns, many of which you may have done on land at some point, are great for increasing flexibility and stretching out areas of the body that are often neglected but can wreak havoc if they aren’t properly exercised. The instructions and illustrations show how to perform the movement properly, though it’s always a good idea to ask an aquatics instructor for help if you need more guidance.

Add some basic strength moves to your water walking and stretching for a well-rounded workout. Live Strong’s Pool Exercises for Seniors consists of four moves that promote flexibility and strength in the arms, legs and abs. These exercises are basic enough for those who need uncomplicated moves to practice in the pool, yet they still provide a challenge. The Wall Chair is a deceptively simple exercise that will work your core, and that core strength will help you perform exercises such as Leg Pushes, which give you an added resistance challenge with a pool noodle.

The Mayo Clinic’s Aquatic Exercise slideshow demonstrates six exercises that make use of props such as kickboards and hand webs for added resistance. The static images that accompany the instructions are very helpful in finding proper form, and there are plenty of modifications provided so you can customize this workout to meet your body’s needs and fitness level.

The water is great for exercising as long as you practice proper safety precautions. Make sure there is a lifeguard on duty when you’re in the pool, and do not go it alone. Start slowly and progress in your own time. Take classes and familiarize yourself with the pool. Check with your local fitness or community center for classes that work for you, and consult your physician for proper medical advice and guidance before beginning an aquatic exercise routine or any other workout program.