Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 12:05 am
The many benefits of water aerobics
Fun, friends and fitness await you in the pool
Gene Weiser could be the poster child for water exercise – or at least the poster adult.
Weiser, a ballroom dancer and former Springfield resident now living at The Villages in Florida, maintains that regular attendance at water aerobics classes helped him in multiple ways. He was able to postpone knee replacement surgery, reduce his pain medicines, stop Hyalgan shots to lubricate his knee, enhance his dance moves and stay fit into his late 60s.
“It all started in December 2005 when I scheduled myself for a knee replacement at age 59,” Weiser said. “My doctor said to find an exercise to strengthen my legs.” So Weiser began researching and decided to give water aerobics a try.
He started attending classes five days a week at FitClub West in 2006, which allowed him to put off surgery until December 2013 and, in the meantime, do a lot more competitive dancing and play some tennis.
He also found the classes fun, made new friends and even did some substitute teaching for them. “The more I did it, the more I liked it,” he explained.
Weiser is not alone. Water exercise is gaining in popularity as Baby Boomers and their younger counterparts look for movement that slows the aging process.
According to the Aquatic Exercise Association, which educates and certifies instructors, water exercise classes appeal to seniors for several reasons. “Water is a forgiving medium, reducing joint compression and the downward pull of gravity,” the AEA points out.
The water also helps reduce swelling of inflamed joints, improve sensory function, enhance stability and balance, increase cardiovascular health and strengthen muscles through the water’s resistance. The AEA and water aerobics instructors add that the socialization aspect of classes can combat loneliness, anxiety and depression in attendees.
The camaraderie makes even those who are reluctant to put on a swimsuit forget their self-consciousness. People who can’t swim or don’t want to put their faces in the water can participate because exercisers remain upright.
Greta Huseman, lead water fitness instructor at the Springfield YMCA, said aqua aerobics can boost confidence in people who can do things in the water that they might not be able to do on land. “Studies now show that water exercise does help with bone density so it’s another plus for exercising in the water,” she said.
Research led by Nobuo Takeshima in Japan and published in 2002 found that older women who participated in regular water exercise for more than 12 weeks gained strength, flexibility and agility and lowered their cholesterol levels. His co-author, Michael Rogers at Wichita State University, said participants’ increase in strength likely came from the resistance of the water, according to WebMD.
Other studies have touted the cardiovascular gain and reduction of pain benefits for water exercisers.
The Springfield Y’s associate aquatics director, Tara Crowley, said a variety of classes appeals to all ages and fitness levels. Aqua zumba offers fast-paced dance moves, while the slower-paced aqua chi is good for those who need to work on balance. The Y also has a water arthritis class and a deep water class for advanced participants.
The Springfield FitClub offers a menu of pool classes at its south and west locations. Members can choose from three levels of intensity and use such equipment as noodles, water weights, balls, modified kickboards, paddles and weighted belts to increase resistance in the water.
Equipment can add fun to a workout and give those who fear the water more confidence, something the Y’s Crowley said is important.
“Even non-swimmers can participate in water fitness classes,” she said. Older adults may have joint issues, motion restrictions, balance problems and coordination challenges, which is why water fitness is the “perfect solution.”
Weiser echoes that sentiment. “I always say that had I not done water aerobics, I would have had the knee surgery a lot sooner – and not have been as physically active all those years.”
Mary Bohlen of Springfield is freelance writer and an AEA-certified water aerobics instructor at FitClub West, where she has taught classes since 2002.