The Benefits of Water Exercise for Seniors

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Seniors flock to water exercise classes for good reason. Buoyancy, that is the upward thrust of the water which allows a body to float, decreases compression on the joints. Seniors with joint issues can exercise with less pain. They can also exercise with greater range of motion, which improves flexibility. Buoyancy reduces the body’s weight by 90% in neck deep water, by 65-75% in chest deep water, and by 50% in waist deep water. Those who find it hard to exercise on land, where they bear their full weight, can exercise comfortably in the pool. There is also a social factor. Friendships are formed with other exercisers that often go beyond their time together in class. Another big plus is that water exercise is just plain fun!



There are other benefits, however, that are less well known. The drag resistance of the water slows movement down, so there is less risk of injury from moving too fast. The resistance is on all sides of the body, which means that there is a constant muscle load with every movement. Both muscles in opposing pairs are worked equally. Working out in the pool improves both muscular strength and endurance, which is especially important for seniors.



Hydrostatic pressure is the pressure exerted by water molecules on an immersed body. This pressure is exerted equally on all surfaces of the body, and it increases with depth. Hydrostatic pressure decreases swelling, especially in the lower legs which are immersed more deeply. Immersion relaxes the blood vessels so that they can carry more blood while presenting less resistance to the heart. This decreases blood pressure during water exercise, and decreased blood pressure lingers for awhile after exiting the pool. With regular aquatic exercise, the blood vessels themselves become more pliant and supple. Since stiffening of the blood vessels is a primary factor that causes blood pressure to increase with age, keeping them pliant reduces the risk for hypertension. The hydrostatic pressure of the water pushes blood out to the extremities, and in combination with more supple blood vessels, stroke volume and cardiac output increases. This means the heart becomes more efficient and cardiovascular fitness is improved. Another benefit of increased cardiac output is that a greater blood volume is pushed through the kidneys, which improves kidney function and urine output. Blood flow to the brain also increases during water exercise, delivering oxygen and nutrients which the brain uses to repair and regenerate brain and nerve cells. It can reasonably be expected that this will slow the deterioration of age-related brain performance. 



Not only is water exercise easier on the body than land exercise, its benefits for the muscles, heart, kidneys, and brain makes the pool the closest thing seniors will find to the fountain of youth!


Resources: Information for this article comes from Dr. Bruce Becker, Director of National Aquatics & Sports Medicine Institute and other researchers and the Aquatic Exercise Association’s Aquatic Fitness Professional Manual (2018) 


Guest Blogger: Christine Alexander


For more information on Senior Wellness contact Jason Lewis at [email protected]