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5 Fun Ways to Dive In to Aquatic Exercise

Water Workouts that Really Work

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The pool can be a scary place. You have to wear a swimsuit (ack!), get your hair wet and know the rules of the road—er, swim lanes. But don't let that stop you! Water provides an excellent workout, especially for people with joint issues or for those who don't like the wear and tear of high-impact activities such as jogging. In fact, for many, the pool is a quiet and peaceful respite from the music-pumping cardio and strength areas of a health club. In the pool, you can get a good workout and truly get away at the same time. Another bonus? When you're in the water, you don't even notice that you're sweating!

Water is particularly forgiving for those who are overweight or have musculoskeletal issues. It not only reduces gravity's effect on the body, but its buoyancy also cushions stiff joints and fragile bones, making it perfect for older adults, those suffering from arthritis and other disabilities, and those carrying extra weight. Even athletes use water workouts to rehabilitate after an injury or to cross-train, as it relieves pain and stiffness. And the more you submerge yourself in the water, the more buoyancy the water has, so you can customize your workout to your needs. When you're in the water up to your waist, your body bears just half of its weight; when it's up to your chest only 25 percent; and when you're up to your neck, 10 percent. Individuals with asthma may also prefer indoor pools because the warm, humid air can be easier on the lungs.

When it comes to general health, swimming is definitely a beneficial exercise. A 2004 study at Indiana University found that long-term swimmers older than 40 who swam more than four times a week showed fewer signs of aging than the general population. The regular swimmers also had lower blood pressure, blood triglycerides, and cholesterol; better pulmonary (lung) function; and more muscle mass than non-swimmers. And swimming is truly a full-body workout, working your upper body, lower body, and core, all while getting your heart rate up. Because swimming isn't a weight-bearing exercise, most research shows that you won't build bone density from regular trips to the pool, but you will build strength. Water provides 12 times the resistance of air!

Sounds pretty good, right? Well there are a couple of cons to consider. If your pool has chlorine in it, it can reduce air quality and be hard on your lungs. Chlorine can also cause skin and eye irritation for some, especially if chlorine levels are low and there's urine and sweat in the pool (a gross but common occurrence). Additionally, although chlorine kills most germs that cause skin rashes and swimmer’s ear, it doesn't kill everything on contact. Chlorine takes longer to kill diarrhea-causing cryptosporidium. (Another big yuck.)

Another cause of concern is that swimming may adversely affect your appetite. Although research here is mixed, some studies show that swimming increases appetite in certain people, which can make weight-loss difficult. Additionally, when you swim, your heart rate responds differently than when you're on land. In fact, even though you may feel like you're working hard, your heart rate in the water can be about 17 beats per minute lower than it would be for a similar intensity on land. For this reason, measuring exercise intensity using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a safer bet than monitoring your heart rate.

Despite the cons, water is the choice workout for many, and if you enjoy it, chances are that you'll stick with it—and that's a good thing. You're not limited to swimming either: There are a range of activities that you can do in the water, giving you both the variety to prevent boredom and the versatility to work with any goal you have, no matter where you are on your fitness and weight-loss journey. Below are five ways to jump in the pool and burn some calories while having—dare I say it?—fun!
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • This might sound crazy, but my favorite part about swimming laps is the turns. It kills me that I can't do real laps in my parent's pool and that it has to be a vacation only treat for me until I spring for a membership at a gym with a pool. The underwater turn and kickoff is just so exhilarating. - 8/19/2014 12:06:25 AM
  • ???? Warm humid air is about the worst thing for my asthma - 8/16/2014 12:45:56 PM
  • When I used to go "swimming " with an ex-neighbour I used to go lift weights and then I would go and practice kata in the water the extra resistance was great. - 4/8/2014 9:53:29 PM
  • I do at least 80 laps at the pool whenever I go! I have yet to see a youngster go that many! he he - 6/21/2013 5:37:49 PM
  • I do at least 80 laps at the pool whenever I go! I have yet to see a youngster go that many! he he - 6/21/2013 5:37:49 PM
  • I started out swimming one mile each time I went to the pool. I am up to 1-1/4 each time I swim now. I do this every other day if I can; but at least 4 times a week otherwise! - 6/21/2013 5:36:13 PM
  • I LOVE LOVE LOVE water exercises! I hit the pool 4-5 times a week. - 5/30/2013 8:06:55 PM
  • I have discovered a class which is called aqua cardio - I guess its a blend of water jogging and aerobics... We wear the bouyance belts, jog forwards and backwards and even stationary, but also do cross country skiing, jumping jacks, rocket kicks all either forwards, backwards and in place (and let me tell you the workout when you go from moving forwards to backwards without turning around - the water is still moving one way while you TRY to go the other!) and then we do arm, leg and core exercises in place. Best of all this is through the high school at $4! a class! - 5/30/2013 11:46:23 AM
  • When I was young, I was afraid of the water. I knew how to swim. I had taken beginning swimming in college. I just was not comfortable in the water. The YWCA where I lived offered a beginning swimming class focused on people who were afraid of the water. Fraidy Cats. What a godsend. Now it's 50 years later, and I can't get enough of the water. There is nothing that gives me a better workout or relaxes me more.

    Warning: It DOES make you hungry.

    Enjoy. - 5/30/2013 8:48:08 AM
  • I am scare of the water because I don't know how to swim. But I really like watet aerobics. - 5/5/2013 2:38:42 PM
  • I'm one of those rare people who absolutely hates swimming. I used to like it as a kid but when I got older, no thanks. It was bad when I was a camp counselor and HAD to swim with my counselor. :( Such a shame, since doing laps would be wonderful exercise for me this summer. - 5/13/2012 11:35:33 PM
  • I LOVE the water. I've been contemplating beginning a water aerobics class and after reading this, I think I will. - 4/9/2012 10:54:20 AM
  • Love water jogging and exercise. It is my standard workout. I live in Florida and have a pool so it is very easy for me to fit it in. - 4/9/2012 9:09:05 AM
  • I think that the "grandma" phrase was clumsily trying to get at the fact that though water exercise has a reputation for being popular with elders, it is in fact a great workout for all ages, sizes, and conditions. In one of my classes I have a range from an ultramarathoner (races 50-100 miles in mountainous terrain) to a person recovering from double hip replacement. Everybody works at their own pace toward their own challenges. - 2/1/2011 1:10:56 AM
  • I love water walking & water aerobics classes. Our parks' system runs pools that offer a wide range, & with them, you didn't need to get your hair wet. :-) I preferred going in the winter months when the pool wasn't as over-run with kids.

    Given the usually warm, accepting Spark atmosphere, I was surprised & dismayed at the "not your Grandmother's" line. I realize websites like to attract a young audience, but surely not at the risk of sounding ageist. - 12/8/2010 9:29:56 PM
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