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Aquatic Fitness Fun - Solutions for Non-Swimmers

by Martin Miron

It’s summertime, and with a cry of, “Last one in’s a rotten egg,” everybody wants to get into the water. Along with the fun, swimming is superb exercise. That’s terrific—if you can swim. But many people never learned to swim, have a limiting disability or are just afraid of deep water.

Aquatic Fitness

Tracy Carlson, director of the New Holland (Pennsylvania) Recreation Center and an Aquatics Exercise Association-certified aquatic instructor who teaches at indoor and outdoor pools, observes that, “You tend to find an older crowd in their 30s, 40s and up. You don’t find the younger crowd here much, and they are really missing out on the benefits of aquatic fitness.” She explains, “It’s perfect for people who are afraid of the water, because they don’t have to immerse their head or take their feet off the bottom of the pool.”

Aquatic Weight Loss

“As with any weight-loss exercise program, doing aquatic fitness activities at least three days a week is extremely beneficial,” Carlson continues. “It is vertical fitness without the impact on the joints you get with any kind of land training.”

“You’ll do weight training in the water; you can do core training; you can do water walking and running. If you have balance issues, the water will hold you up, whereas on land, you are dealing with gravity issues and might fall over.” She notes that hand gloves can create more stability and resistance, making a workout even more interesting.

Pool Therapy

Plastic foam pool noodles are popular because they afford convenient, cheap, flexible fun. They can also be used as resistance devices to create workout moves in water up to your neck that are similar to those which gyms offer.

In the National Multiple Sclerosis Society magazine, Momentum, Amy Paturel, a master of public health, notes that, “Participants use water noodles to gain strength.” Exercises performed in the pool produce marked improvements over those achieved on land. With the effects of gravity countered by water’s natural buoyancy, muscles needed to keep the body upright can take a break in order to isolate others for toning.

Saltwater Pool Therapy

In Seattle, m’illumino, a movement arts studio, maintains an outdoor in-ground saltwater pool, heated to 96 degrees, that was custom-built for therapy. Owner Bridget Thompson offers Feldenkrais sessions in the water and a specially adapted form of shiatsu. “Being in the pool is like returning to the womb,” she says. “Sounds are muffled, and it’s almost like sensory deprivation, so you’re really able to sense the inner body.”

At the Lake

Beach surf is an ideal aquatic playground if you have access, but for many, the closest approximation is a lake. Carlson says, “I think the reason that you don’t see the same types of shallow water activities in a lake is that people can’t see very far below the surface of the water, and the bottom may be uneven, bumpy or rocky.” She cautions, “A lake with a beachfront where the underwater portion is well maintained lends itself to aquatic fitness, but be careful in your choice of location, because of the bottom and balance issues. I recommend that you always wear properly fitted and comfortable water shoes, even in a pool.”

On the River

Many rivers and streams also provide fertile opportunities for a little exercise and therapeutic relaxation. Floating downstream in an inner tube, or “tubing,” on a shallow river can give legs and arms a workout, but as Sherry Green, manager of Ichetucknee Springs State Park, in North Florida, states, “Folks truly enjoy floating down the Ichetuknee; some so much so that they have made it a family tradition. There aren’t many places that offer the visitor a cool river, a comfortable float and wildlife viewing while conversing with friends and family. Daily distractions are removed while floating the river.”

When exercising outdoors in a pool or another body of water, remember to stay hydrated by drinking sufficient pure water, too. Keep a reusable water bottle, waterproof sunscreen, towel and appropriate footwear handy. For those that first try non-swimming aquatic activities to overcome inexperience or apprehension, the resulting comfortable familiarity will deliver multiple healthy benefits and may even result in a life-changing payoff: swimming lessons.

The Mayo Clinic provides an instructional, non-swimming, water exercise slide show online at Martin Miron is a freelance writer and editor for Natural Awakenings, in Naples, FL. Contact him at emem. [email protected].

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