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Water Exercise for Seniors

A Dive into Good Health continued...

"It didn't tell me anything I didn't already know," says Shannon Whetstone Mescher, a certified health educator and vice president of programs and services for the Arthritis Foundation (AF), who reviewed the study.

Takeshima's research found that older women who participated in regular water exercise over 12 weeks experienced more strength, flexibility, and agility, and better total cholesterol levels.

Michael E. Rogers, PhD, Takeshima's co-author and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Aging at Wichita State University in Kansas, says the difference between their research and others lies in the focus of the investigation.

Previous studies, he says, concentrated on the cardiovascular benefits and safety of swimming or aqua aerobics. "Our study combined aqua aerobics -- walking and dancing in the water -- with actual strength training in the water. The participants lifted weights while they were in the water."

On average, he says aqua exercise participants increased their strength by 27% in the quadriceps, 40% in the hamstrings, and about 10% in the upper body region.

Rogers attributes the increase in strength to the resistance that can be more easily experienced in water than on land.

Aquatic Classes for the Masses

If anyone has put muscle behind water fitness programs, it's the Arthritis Foundation. The organization has been hosting aquatic classes for all ages at local gyms and hospitals in the last 25 years.

"It's our most popular program," says Whetstone Mescher, who observes that many people enjoy being able to exercise and socialize with others in the pool.

For those with bone, muscle, or joint troubles, the warmth, buoyancy, and resistance of the water supposedly challenges the body while easing strain on problematic areas. "Over a period of time," she says, "people see things like a decrease in pain, improved daily function, and improved perceived quality of life."

Even people who don't have access to a local pool can enjoy these benefits. The Arthritis Foundation offers a video on how to safely and effectively exercise in a spa or a hot tub. For more information about the video and to find the nearest AF aquatic class near you, call 1-800-283-7800 or log on to

A Life-Changing Habit

Swimming three to four times a week has helped Patricia feel healthier and more coordinated. In the water, she doesn't feel any pain, even though she suffered a major back injury from an accident a few years before. Now almost 60 years old, she has more energy than ever, and is "having a blast" teaching high-schoolers.

Patricia plans to continue her water workouts. In fact, she's signed up for two more AARP relays with her sisters this year. The events have also given them the chance to be alone for the first time in 30 years. Last year, they were so excited about being together, they had facials and makeup done, and got uniforms for the triathlon.

The story is remarkable, but it is only one of many that show the life-changing effect of exercise.

"It's important to choose activities that you enjoy," advises Margaret Hawkins, Campaign Manager of Health for the AARP. "Search for that activity and make it a habit."

"It is never too late to introduce physical activity in life," says Chodzko-Zajko. And the AARP knows that. The oldest swimmer at one of their TriUmph Classics last year was 83.

Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on April 12, 2002

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