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The Top Five Benefits of Water Exercise for Seniors

Two seniors and one young woman participate in water aerobics.

As the body ages, working out becomes more tiresome, more difficult, and less enjoyable. Even walking can stress bones and joints, and working out on a bicycle or elliptical machine becomes hazardous as the risk of falling increases. Thankfully, the pool provides a safe workout zone for seniors living with a range of conditions such as arthritis, poor balance, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s, chronic pain, diabetes, angina, and depression. Pool workouts improve balance and posture, reduce joint pain, and won’t cause overheating. And the benefits don’t stop there. Here are five reasons why water exercise is the best exercise for seniors:

1. Manages Diabetes

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 10% of the US population is diabetic (that’s 30.3 million people). The CDC also reports that “more than half of these new cases [are] among adults aged 45 to 64 years, and the numbers [are] about equal for men and women.” Despite overwhelming evidence that exercise lowers blood sugar levels, researchers find that only about 30% of diabetics work out regularly due to physical obstacles like excess weight, joint pain, or heart conditions that are exacerbated by traditional exercise. Water exercise not only removes these barriers thanks to its weightless, low-impact environment, but also lowers blood sugar just as effectively as land-based exercise does.

2. Doesn’t Stress Joints

There’s really no question why the Arthritis Foundation, the CDC, and the Mayo Clinic all recommend pool workouts as an ideal exercise modality for arthritis-sufferers. Water’s buoyancy uplifts the body, removing weight from bones and relieving joint pressure. This weightless effect mitigates impact and reduces the pain associated with rheumatoid- or osteoarthritis. Water also applies hydrostatic pressure which massages the body and promotes blood and fluid flow. For maximum comfort, the Arthritis Foundation suggests seeking a water temperature between 82 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit for aquatic exercise or swimming.

A smiling senior woman in goggles with her arms on the pool's edge.

3. Reduces Risk of Falling

The CDC reports that accidental falls are the leading cause of injury and death among older Americans with about one fall happening every second. So, if you’re prone to poor balance or frequent falls, traditional land-based workouts may not feel safe. In fact, a 1996 study published in the Journals of Gerontology, points out that “[t]he fear of falling may cause elderly people to limit their movement… inadvertently [causing a] loss of postural skills.” All this means is that seniors need a risk-free exercise space that allows full range of motion and the chance to “practice falling” through what researchers call “movement errors.” The 1996 study, along with new research conducted in 2010 by the Universidade Federal de São Paulo, finds that high-intensity aquatic exercise engenders greater stability. This was demonstrated by an 86% reduction in the frequency of falls (compared to sedentary people) after taking part in a 7-month aquatic program.

4. Provides a Social Outlet

Though walking around the block or using the stair-climber at the gym provides myriad physical health benefits, solo exercise falls short when it comes to social wellbeing. Without people to talk to (or even commiserate with), depression and loneliness can set in, causing functional and cognitive decay, lower levels of happiness, and a shorter lifespan. A 2009 study published in the Industrial Psychiatry Journal points out that relationships within an older person’s own age group may be even more satisfying than interactions with family, making friendships paramount to an aging person’s wellbeing. An aqua aerobics class or a U.S. Master’s swimming group provides a friendly space to meet new friends or maintain ties with old ones.

5. Maintains Bone Density

For decades, aquatic exercise had been overlooked as a strategy for maintaining bone density because of it’s weightlessness. But recent research finds that high-intensity water workouts provide the same load-bearing effect as land-based workouts. A study conducted by researchers at the Universidade Federal de São Paulo compared outcomes of sedentary women to women who participated in high-intensity water aerobics classes for a 6-month period. Although both groups took a daily calcium and vitamin D supplement, only the women in the water exercise group maintained their bone density, while women who did not exercise suffered a 1.2% loss of density in their femurs.

If you’re seeking the best exercise modality for an aging body, look no further than your backyard pool. From improving balance and reversing diabetes, to thwarting depression and loneliness, the benefits of water exercise for seniors are countless.

Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only and is not meant as medical advice. You should always speak to your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine or making any health-related decisions.


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