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Wellness in the Water

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By Amy McDowell, P.T.

 

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With summer speeding by, make sure you don’t miss out on enjoying the weather by swimming in a nearby beach, lake or pool!  The water is one of the best places to exercise, whether you are already very fit, coping with a difficult injury or medical condition, or simply haven’t exercised in a while.

Water gives your body support and reduces the effects of gravity on the joints.  Just by standing in water that is waist high, your body bears only 50% of its original weight.  In chest high water, it is decreased to 25-35%, and when you stand in water up to your neck, your body only bears 10% of its weight.  If you move slowly and let the water support you, movements become easier to do.  If you try to move quickly, the water gives you resistance which can provide strengthening and endurance benefits.

Professional athletes do aquatic workouts during rehabilitation from injuries or for cross-training.  For a high level athletic workout, try running forwards and backwards through chest level water.  Treading water, swimming laps, and using resistance devices like webbed gloves or water dumbbells can also give you a very advanced workout.  You can even simulate warm-up drills and sports activities from your favorite sport.  For example, practice your golf swing or simulate tennis strokes underwater.

The water is also a great place to start a workout program if you have not exercised in a while.  Begin by walking deliberately back and forth.  Make sure you aren’t walking up on your toes.   Walk in all directions including forwards, backwards, and steps to the side.  You can also do small squats or stand in chest high water and gently push your arms apart and together across the top of the water.  Try not to do too much on the first day, because movements generally feel more comfortable in the water therefore it can be easy to overdo it.  

If you have fibromyalgia or some other condition that can make you sensitive to cold water, you may need to find a warm temperature pool known as a therapeutic pool.  Therapeutic pools are usually kept between 88º and 92º F which is too warm for lap swimmers.  They are used mainly for exercise classes and aquatic physical therapy.  A hospital wellness center is a good place to find a therapeutic pool.

As with any exercise program, make sure you consult your doctor before you begin.  Your physical therapist can also help you design a program for your individual needs and goals. Happy swimming!

     


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