March 12, 2019

Using the Pool for Fitness

by Jane Thrall

If you’re an athletic type and always have been, you’re likely still enjoying the sports that you did before you boarded the retirement wagon. Barring injury or medical restriction, fit cyclists are still riding, limber tennis players are on the court and energetic hockey players still lace up for the ice.

But if you’ve never been particularly fond of sport or exercise, you may be finding yourself becoming less fit.

One of the greatest hazards of aging is a loss of physical fitness. Loss of muscle mass, weight gain, various injuries and ailments can all contribute to a reduction in both participation in sports and general activity. A reduction of this kind, in turn, has profound effects on overall wellness and on mental and emotional health.

If you’ve decided to make an effort to improve your fitness and you’re starting from scratch, consider heading to your local swimming pool. Aquatic centres are an amazing resource for those looking to become more
fit and mobile.

Water is a great equalizer. Exercising in the pool reduces stress and strain on joints and strengthens core muscles. Strong core muscles help with stability and balance, preventing falls and injuries. Water sports are also an aerobic form of exercise, so they are beneficial to the heart, potentially reducing both blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Walking through water — ‘water walking’ — is the most basic form of aqua therapy and a great place to start. For more resistance, try walking in deeper water, adding arm swings or leg weights. Walk backwards, do side steps or incorporate lunges into your routine. Increase the pace and intensity by including some ‘water running’ or sprints as well.

Invest in a pair of water shoes to protect your feet and improve traction. They are a must-have item for water walking, but they’ll assist you in pretty much any water sport. You may want to add a buoyancy belt for deepwater running; however, some hard-core runners will even tether themselves to the edge of the pool. Deepwater running is perfect for those recovering from injury as it reduces impact on your body as much as 90%.

Aquasize classes are a great way to combine fitness with social time. For those who are a bit nervous in the water, there are shallow end classes; and for the more confident, there are deepwater programs. Some instructors use pool noodles and paddle boards to add to a variety of exercises.

If you are not very comfortable with water, adult swimming lessons might be just the thing. It’s never too late to learn the basics of water safety and develop a feeling of confidence in the water.

If you’re already a swimmer, laps in the pool are one of the best ways to get aerobic exercise. Most pools will have an area set aside for patrons to swim laps or a designated time to accommodate lappers. A waterproof fitness watch can help keep track of your swim duration, distance, and pace.

However, if you’re really ambitious, you may want to join a triathlon training group and get professional coaching to improve your technique, stamina, and endurance. Swimming a triathlon is entirely different from laps in the pool. An experienced instructor can teach skills for swimming in large groups and in open water.

Don’t forget that an aquatic fitness centre typically has a hot tub and sauna. Nothing feels better on an achy joint than a warm-water massage, and saunas have been shown to ease pain, reduce stress and improve cardiovascular health. There have even been studies that show that saunas may help lower the risk of developing dementia — so those Scandinavians may be onto something!