You’ve heard all the bad jokes about elderly people sloshing around in the pool wearing kiddie-like flotation devices. News flash: Aqua aerobics isn’t just for octogenarians and septuagenarians. Turns out, folks in their 30s and 40s are doing these very same exercises on a regular basis as their primary workouts.
Water aerobics, waterobics, or aqua aerobics is defined as the performance of aerobic exercise in shallow water such as a swimming pool. Also known as AquaFit, it’s a type of resistance training. In addition to the standard benefits of any exercise, the use of water in water aerobics supports the body and greatly reduces the risk of muscle or joint injury.
The mitigation of gravity by flotation places less stress on the joints when stretching and can allow a greater range of motion. That in turn makes water aerobics safe for individuals able to keep their heads above water; and exercise in water can also prevent overheating through continuous cooling of the body. Most classes last 45 to 55 minutes and participants don’t need to be strong swimmers.
Mitzie Lootens knows firsthand the benefits of aqua aerobics. Lootens is group exercise director at Central YMCA in San Jose, California, and has been an aqua aerobics instructor for four years. Lootens teaches both land and water group exercise classes and has worked as a health and wellness professional for 14 years. So why is aqua aerobics good for people of all ages, not just those at the old-folks home?
“People often believe that aqua aerobics is a class only for seniors, but that’s not the case,“ Lootens says. “Aqua aerobics enables you to move at the intensity of your choice, just like a spinning class. The instructor guides you through the routine, but the momentum and intensity level is up to you.”
At Central Y, Lootens teaches an advanced water fitness class that incorporates a warm-up, cardio, toning, abdominal work, and a cool-down period. Known for reducing the risk of muscle and joint injuries, aqua aerobics has several advantages. But what, if any, are the disadvantages of this kind of resistance training?
“With aqua aerobics, you get water resistance training without experiencing the delayed muscle soreness as intensely as you do in a land-based resistance training exercise,” Lootens says. “The water gives you more of a therapeutic environment that’s conducive to rehabilitating an injury.”
As long as you supplement your exercise routine with a more weight-bearing activity, Lootens doesn’t see any disadvantages to aqua aerobics resistance training. “In addition, I suggest yoga, strength training, or circuit training.”
According to Lootens, water aerobics provides buoyancy and support for the body, making it less likely for the muscle, bone, and joint to get injured. “Water supports a portion of your weight, which causes less strain on your joints,” she adds.
Lisa Orozco is in her 30s and takes Lootens’ classes at Central YMCA. Why did she sign up? “I heard that aqua aerobics is a great workout and that the classes are a great place to start for people just starting or returning to an exercise program, so it was perfect for me,” Orozco says. “I was a little skeptical when I first jumped in, but after taking the classes my mind was definitely changed once I saw all the age ranges in the classes.”
Orozco says aqua aerobics helped her establish a fitness routine that she doesn’t dread doing. “It’s fun to exercise in a group setting. The members and staff are enjoyable to be around and it’s a motivational setting.”
Two evenings a week for an hour each time, Orozco says she has fun with less impact on her joints. That’s why she keeps coming back for more. “The exercises are more enjoyable because I’m not in pain afterward, and it’s inspirational to see the dedication to fitness that so many people have in the water.”
And there’s another real benefit, at least for Orozco. “Like other types of exercise, aqua aerobics helps me feel better about myself. I have more energy and I’m consistently in a better mood.”