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Why Water Fitness?

While water fitness was once the domain of older adults, now participants of all ages and ability levels are benefiting from aquatic workouts. Shirley Archer, JD, MA, water fitness specialist and health and wellness blogger, examines what’s new in aquatic training research and looks at different types of programs.

Research Update

Here are some of the newer findings related to aquatic training:

Aquatic training improves ability to perform activities of daily living (ADL). Older women who participated in 60-minute shallow-water exercise classes 3 days a week for 12 weeks performed better in land-based ADL, but did not improve balance (Sanders et al. 2016). The Golden Waves® program, used in this and other studies, has proved effective in all variables except for balance, which has had inconsistent results. Sanders notes that, for balance improvement, water depth is critical, and shallower is better.

People of all ages and ability levels can improve strength, endurance and body composition through effective aquatic training. For example, fit young men who did a periodized strength training program 3 times a week for 12 weeks significantly improved muscular strength and power and increased lean body mass (Colado et al. 2009). Healthy, untrained older women who did 60 minutes of shallow-water exercise (including 20 minutes of upper- and lower-body resistance training with equipment) 3 days a week for 24 weeks increased lean body mass by 3.4% and significantly improved muscular strength (Tsourlou et al. 2006).

Water properties lead to less muscle soreness and damage. A study comparing high-intensity land- and water-based plyometrics programs found that training in water produced less inflammation and muscle soreness (Robinson et al. 2004).

Water fitness lowers blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes. A recent study of 35 people with type 2 diabetes compared land-based training with aquatic exercise. All participants trained for 45 minutes 3 times a week for 12 weeks. Participants in both groups experienced a significant reduction in A1C levels—a measure of glucose control (Delevatti et al. 2016).

Types of Programs

As water fitness continues to grow, innovative programs are emerging. Here’s a sampling:

  • shallow- and deep-water training, in­cluding deep-water running for endurance athletes
  • aquatic boot camp, HIIT, cycling and boxing
  • aquatic yoga, Pilates, dance, barre and pole dancing
  • core training, yoga and Pilates on un­stable floating mats or paddleboards
  • aqua mermaid and merman workouts
  • combination land and water programs
  • athletic coaching/personal training

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