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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Water Exercise for Seniors

A Dive into Good Health continued...

There are psychological and social benefits as well. People feel better about themselves, are more engaged in community activities, and they tend to not lose their independence because they're physically fit, says Chodzko-Zajko.

Bottom line, there are many reasons for older adults to "just do it."

So when a recent study came out declaring the pluses of workouts in H20, no one threw up their goggles in excitement. The research led by Nobuo Takeshima of Nagoya City University of Japan appears in the March 2002 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise.

"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.

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