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Exercise in Water and Hydrotherapy


Fiona Jacobsen, Principal Physiotherapist at Physio2go St. Albans, explores the often under-estimated benefits of exercising in water. While aqua aerobic classes used to be the territory of “ the more mature” members at many health clubs, current research leaves no doubt that making a splash at any age can vastly improve cardiovascular health and kick start a weight reduction programme. Supervised exercise in water can also help to maintain joint health and assist in rehabilitation if you have had a traumatic injury or joint surgery.
Aqua aerobic classes provide a safe sociable addition to an exercise programme, ideal for any fitness level at any age. Since classes are almost always held at the shallow end of the pool you do not have to be a swimmer, and the fear of falling as you start a new physical activity is not an issue.

First the science

It is important to understand the scientific evidence supporting aqua aerobic exercise. Aqua aerobics increases metabolism, improves cardiovascular function and increases strength, endurance, and flexibility. Aqua aerobic exercise provides the same training benefits as low-impact aerobic exercise on land with minimum muscle strain and less stress on joints. It benefits the entire body when done steadily and vigorously and has been shown to slow down the loss of muscle mass that occurs naturally with aging.
Chest deep in water you are 75% buoyant, therefore an individual weighing 60 kilos on land would “weigh“ 15 kilos in the water. When weight is supported to this extent, the risk of injury to joints or muscles is greatly reduced. When neck deep in the water up to 90% of your body weight is supported. In addition, water provides gentle cushioning during exercise, while at the same time being 12 times more resistant than air. The resistance that the water offers occurs in all directions, thereby enabling you to strengthen opposing muscle groups with each movement.
As your water-based training programme advances, floats and flippers can be used (under supervision) to add resistance, and to increase the intensity of the exercise as you work towards improved muscle tone.

Cardiovascular fitness

Aqua aerobics provides an enjoyable yet intensive cardiovascular workout. All cardiovascular exercise will burn calories; as an individual exercises body heat is created. The cooling effect of the water makes it easier for your body to dissipate heat in the water than on land, your body has to work less to get rid of the same amount of heat, therefore your heart rate will be lower.”
Water lessens the effect of gravity on your body, making it easier for blood to be pumped “uphill “ back to the heart. Although your heart rate will be approximately 13% lower during a workout in water you will still gain the same metabolic and cardiovascular benefits. The additional comfort offered by water-based activity will also lend itself to longer periods of exercise.

Weight reduction

In a 30-minute water aerobic session you will burn about 400 calories. Research has shown that aqua aerobic workouts decrease body fat as effectively as land-based exercise when performed at a similar intensity level. Just walking, jogging or running in the water, increasing the depth of water as your fitness increases, is great for toning leg muscles, strengthening hips as well as increasing your cardiovascular fitness. An overweight individual exercising in water reduces the stress on muscles and joints, helping to prevent injury. Exercise classes in waist deep water also eliminates “the trauma of lycra” in a busy gym!

Joint Health and Recovery

Aqua aerobic exercise is excellent for increasing strength and flexibility in joints. The water makes it easier to move joints through a greater range of motion, thus increasing flexibility without causing excess pressure on the joints.
Whilst a supervised exercise programme in water can form part of any fitness regime, it is particularly useful for people with chronic illnesses such as arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and early Parkinson’s disease. The jarring and pounding that occurs on land with exercise is greatly reduced in water; therefore individuals with chronic back, disc or joint problems can also benefit from programmes tailored specifically to their needs.
Physio2go has experience in working with postoperative patients as they add water-based exercise to their rehabilitation programme.
After orthopaedic trauma or elective joint replacement surgery, once the surgeon has assessed adequate healing at the operative site, water based exercise is especially effective for the following:
• Gait training in shallow water helps to initiate ‘normal walking patterns’ and allows for increased weight bearing in a controlled manner.
• Increased circulation helps the healing of musculoskeletal injuries.
• Increased range of motion reduces stiffness and pain in joints.
• Exercising in water can improve balance and posture.
• The buoyancy provided by the water can assist joint movement or help provide resistance.
• Exercising in water helps the patient feel they are getting back to ‘normal’ as they are in a usual recreational environment.
Once the patient feels confident in the water and their strength and mobility have increased they are then ready to progress from the supervision of a physiotherapist to that of a trainer.
So… make a splash, exercising in water is a safe, fun and effective option to improve your overall fitness.

For further information please contact:
Physio2go Ltd.
York Lodge,
St. Peters St,
St. Albans,
AL 1 3HD
Telephone: 01727 850925