- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

Aquatic fitness classes seem like a great way for older Americans to stay slim. The water supplies gentle weight resistance and allows for exercise with minimal jarring of the joints.

So why are so many young athletes taking a dip alongside their senior peers?

Scott Gainey, aquatics director for Trinity University’s Trinity Center in the District, is one of several local fitness experts who report the classes draw young and old alike.

“We’ll get a mix of the younger people for cross-training … trying to give their bodies a break,” he says.

Mr. Gainey recalls one cocky athlete who wanted to take the water fitness class and follow it up with her traditional gym workout. She made it through the former but quit on the latter — she was too tired to continue.

The sessions can be performed without equipment or with a combination of webbed gloves — for more resistance — and water shoes for stability.

Mr. Gainey says many water-based fitness classes mirror the movements students traditionally would perform on land. The goal for the bulk of his students echoes those of exercisers who prefer their workouts on the dry side — they want to shed some pounds.

Water helps people reach that goal, whether it’s an older person trying to stay slim or a cross-training devotee looking for a more calming way to keep fit. Mr. Gainey says many new moms turn to the pool as a way to return to their pre-pregnancy fitness levels.

Mary Sanders, associate professor at the University of Nevada at Reno’s School of Medicine, says water exercise has its roots in therapy.

“More and more people have orthopedic conditions that limit their ability to exercise vigorously on land. Water is a nice option,” Ms. Sanders says. “As the baby boomers age, they’re looking for other ways to get fit.”

Ms. Sanders says she sees more young, healthy people taking a dip into the fitness pool.

“They’re minimizing risk of injury, and it’s another way to keep their training fresh,” she says.

Recent health trends regarding an increasingly obese population could be assuaged by water activities.

“As obesity trends shift in our younger people, one of the ways to get them going is the pool,” she says.

Ms. Sanders calls the average pool a “liquid weight machine.” Water is hundreds of times more dense then air and therefore acts as a natural resistance medium for swimmers.

“Running in shallow water burns 17 calories per minute with waist-deep water,” she says. Running on dry land burns about 10 calories per minute.

“It’s heavy and more viscous than air. What we offer is an opportunity to do resistance and cardiovascular exercises in one training modality,” she says.

Water gives hydrostatic support to exercisers, supplying a steady but gentle pressure that improves overall body circulation, according to Jane Katz’s book “Your Water Workout.” Water also improves respiratory function by increasing pressure on the body’s respiratory muscles.

At the same time, Ms. Sanders says, water “un-weights” one’s body to a certain degree, which could help overweight people who feel encumbered by their girth.

It also provides a safe arena for senior citizens to improve on their mobility and balance.

In some classes, she says, her students practice movements that mimic climbing stairs and retaining one’s balance overall.

“We minimize the fear of falling down. Water becomes a gateway to better living skills,” she says.

Valeria Georgescu, group exercise instructor with the Sports Club/LA in the District, says she is seeing more interest in pool-based classes today than in her past 22 years in the field.

“It used to be just aerobics [in the pool]. Now, we have partner training classes, yoga and Pilates,” Ms. Georgescu says.

“I stress that it should be in everybody’s exercise regimen,” says Ms. Georgescu, who teaches in moderately shallow water less than 5 feet in depth. “In a pool, you do a thousand jumping jacks.”

And the exerciser will never break a sweat.

Those unfamiliar with water fitness classes should take a peek at one in action before tugging on a swimsuit.

“If you see 20 senior citizens basically floating or hanging on [flotation devices], it’s not something a younger person would do,” she says.

Ms. Georgescu also suggests watching from where the instructor teaches his or her class.

“An instructor must be able to monitor the class and have everybody able to do the exercises at their own pace,” she says. That means he or she should be out of the water where visibility isn’t hampered.

Mr. Gainey adds that students need to tell instructors if they have any illnesses or injuries that could limit movement. Often, it’s the instructor’s job to quiz potential students before class.

“In a group setting, they won’t tell me [about any injuries] because they don’t want to be different,” he says.

Exercise enthusiasts don’t even need to belong to a health club or know someone with a pool to do these movements. Some manufacturers, such as Endless Pools and HydroWorx, sell minipools that let consumers go through their aquatic exercises without having to install a full-size pool.

Lisa Vago, fitness director with the Medical Spa at Nova in Ashburn, Va., says the water also provides a measure of comfort for overweight people looking to get back in shape.

“If you’re 500 pounds, you can move around a lot more easily,” says Ms. Vago, whose group offers restorative and preventive therapies as part of the Nova Medical Group.

It’s also easy to start up with a new water program because equipment costs rarely present an obstacle.

“Most of the places, the equipment is there,” she says. “Your body is the primary exercise component in a water aerobics class.”

Water fitness may not be for everyone, but Ms. Vago says the workouts can take participants back to an early time in their lives. There’s something about splashing around in a pool that brings back childhood memories.

“It really brings back that fun, kidlike behavior,” she says.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide