5 Water Exercises for Seniors

You probably know that aerobic exercise is a must for heart health, but did you know that water aerobics provides the same benefits without stressing your joints? See more healthy aging pictures.

It's been said that you can be certain of two things: death and taxes. Another reasonable certainty? Exercise can offset the ravages of time.

The benefits of regular exercise -- including reducing your risk of chronic and debilitating illness such as diabetes and arthritis while increasing your cardiovascular health and lung function -- far outweigh the excuses for not adding it to your life.


Older adults should start slowly. Try adding just five minutes of exercise into your daily routine and gradually increase the time to 30 minutes a day. It's also important to add strengthening exercises twice a week to reduce muscle and bone loss and increase your flexibility and strength.

Exercising in the water puts less stress on joints and allows people with arthritis a reprieve from pain. With many types of water exercise, you don't even need to know how to swim to take part in them. However, we're going to begin with one exercise you will need to know a stroke or two for: swimming.

5: Swimming


Swimming is a classic type of good-for-you, heart-rate-raising exercise. No matter your experience level or how many strokes you may or may not know, understand this: Swimming is one of the best overall workouts you can do. It affects your whole body. It benefits your heart, your lung function, your flexibility, your muscle tone and strength -- it's also low-impact and burns as many as 500 to 650 calories in an hour [source: Weil].

If you don't already know how to swim, or you're just feeling out of practice, check out your local gym, fitness center or YMCA to learn the strokes or brush up on your technique before diving in.


4: Water Aerobics

Most of us are familiar with aerobic exercises, also called endurance exercises -- these include activities such as walking, dancing and step class at the gym. This type of exercise increases our heart rates and offers substantial heart and lung health benefits in addition to weight loss or weight management. Aerobic exercise also helps to improve our moods.

What you might not be familiar with is the idea of doing aerobic exercise while immersed in water. Aqua aerobics classes are offered at many local gyms, fitness centers and YMCAs. Some are tailored toward one specific type of exercise such as water dancing, walking or running, while others combine various aerobic activities -- everything from jumping jacks to dancing. A typical class will likely last about an hour, including time to warm-up and cool-down, during which you'll be immersed in water that's roughly chest-deep.


3: Strength Training

If you think you can't benefit from strength training, also called resistance training, think again. Forty-five percent of women age 65 and older can't lift 10 pounds. And that jumps to 65 percent of women who are 75 or older [source: Nied and Franklin].

Practicing strength training at least two days every week can help to reduce your risk of straining to pick up a jug of milk, for example. It's a slow form of exercise that forces your muscles to work against resistance, in turn making those muscles stronger.


Traditional, out-of-water strength training may use free weights, an elastic resistance band or a cable machine. When practiced in water, though, there are added benefits. While the resistance could still be from weights, bands or other equipment, the water itself also provides resistance when you move. Additionally, the added buoyancy helps reduce the stress that exercise can place on joints, knees and hips, reducing chronic pain and increasing your range of motion.

2: Relaxation

Floating in water. There isn't much better, is there?

Relaxation is an important part of well-rounded health. Practicing relaxation techniques in a pool of warm water can help to loosen tight muscles and ease joint pain, whether from aging, chronic illness or injury. It may also help to reduce your blood pressure, reduce your heart rate and reduce the amount of stress hormone your body produces while boosting your energy and your immune system.


Look for classes that teach water-based relaxation techniques -- or practice at home -- such as progressive muscle relaxation, yoga or mindful meditation to help you achieve both physical and mental balance.

1: Balance Exercises

If you're like many people over the age of 65, you may worry about falling. And it's a worry founded in fact: 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65 falls every year, and as many as 20 to 30 percent of those who fall have injuries such as hip fractures, lacerations and head traumas (including traumatic brain injury) [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].

Maintaining good balance into your senior years is important for reducing your risk of falling. Look for classes such as tai chi or yoga that are offered in water -- they'll boost your balance, and practicing the movement while immersed in water will allow you greater range of motion and reduce the strain on your joints. And because it's practiced in the water, you don't have to worry about being injured from falls while participating.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • American Council on Exercise. "Older Adult Fitness." (May 16, 2011)http://www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/fitfacts_display.aspx?itemid=3182&category=9
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Falls Among Older Adults: An Overview." Dec. 8, 2010. (May 18, 2011)http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html
  • FitWatch. "The Single Best Exercise That Combines Strength and Balance Training." (May 16, 2011)http://www.fitwatch.com/weight-loss/the-single-best-exercise-that-combines-strength-training-and-balance-training-466.html
  • Harrison, Michele. "You Can … Exercise in Water." National Multiple Sclerosis Society. (May 16, 2011)http://www.nationalmssociety.org/living-with-multiple-sclerosis/you-can/exercise-in-water/index.aspx
  • Mayo Clinic. "Aerobic exercise: Top 10 reasons to get physical." Feb. 12, 2011. (May 16, 2011)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aerobic-exercise/EP00002
  • Mayo Clinic. "Eating and exercise: 5 tips to maximize your workouts." Dec. 18, 2010. (May 16, 2011)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ00594_D
  • Mayo Clinic. "Relaxation techniques: Essential for reducing stress." May 23, 2009. (May 16, 2011)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/relaxation-technique/SR00007
  • Nied, Robert J. and Barry Franklin. "Promoting and Prescribing Exercise for the Elderly." American Family Physician. Feb. 1, 2002. (May 16, 2011)http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0201/p419.html
  • WebMD. "Water Exercise for Seniors." April 12, 2002. (May 16, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/water-exercise-seniors
  • Weil, Richard. "What are the benefits of swimming?" MedicineNet. Aug. 2, 2007. (May 16, 2011)http://www.medicinenet.com/swimming/page4.htm#benefits
  • Wysong, Pippa. "Aquatic Land Exercises Improve Balance, Function in Older Women With Osteoporosis." Annie Appleseed Project; Medscape. Sept. 22, 2003. (May 16, 2011)http://www.annieappleseedproject.org/aqlaneximbal.html