Water exercise is one of the best nonimpact fitness activities around, says the American Council on Exercise. Just about anybody can swim or work out in water, including pregnant women, the elderly, the overweight, and people with arthritis or physical disabilities.
What's great about swimming? The buoyancy of water reduces your weight by about 90%. That puts less stress on joints, bones, and muscles. That's why a pool is a great place for people with arthritis or back problems to exercise.
When you swim, you involve all the major muscle groups -- the shoulders, back, abdominals, legs, hips, and glutes. Because water provides 12 times the resistance, exercise in water helps build strength. Water exercise strengthens your heart, as well.
Do it right, and swimming can also help you lose weight. But you have to push yourself because it's harder to lose weight by swimming than, say, by running. To get the burn, push hard for short spurts, then drop back to a less-intense level. It's interval training, just like you would do with walking.
Getting Started on Water Fitness
Check with your local YMCA or a health club for a swim class. A "master's" swimming group is one that's for people over age 20 -- so don't be intimidated by the name.
Get comfortable putting your face in the water. Practice swimming drills with a kickboard. Then start learning the right swimming techniques. Getting the rhythm of the swim strokes and the breathing can be tricky at first. But coaches break it down and help you get there slowly.
If you're just beginning to swim, start slowly. Try to swim for 10 minutes. Build up to a 30-minute water workout, three to five times a week.
The pool is a great place to get a good workout -- and to feel like a kid again. Don't be afraid to take the plunge!