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Dive in to a water workout

Two smiling women in a pool, holding exercise floats.

June 29, 2023—Going to the pool or lake isn't just for kids on summer break. Water workouts can be beneficial for people of any age. Plus, they're fun!

Water workouts aren't limited to the summer months either. You can find open swim times and water aerobics classes at community pools or gyms year-round.

Benefits of water workouts

Water workouts are especially helpful for people with conditions that make exercise on land challenging.

  • People with arthritis can often exercise longer without pain in the water than they can when running or biking. Exercising in the water is gentler on the joints than some land-based activities. Warm water, between 83 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, helps soothe joints and muscles.
  • People with developmental disabilities or muscle weakness may do well in water. Water is buoyant, which means it supports some body weight. This helps people strengthen their muscles without putting as much strain on the joints.
  • People who are working on their balance can get support from the water. If they lose their balance, the water helps keep them in place as they regain their footing. This helps reduce the risk of injury from a fall when compared to exercise on land. (Wear water shoes for some extra grip.)
  • People with mental health concerns might find that water-based exercise helps improve mood and decrease depression. Swimming together is also a way for family members to connect.
  • People who are sensitive to heat might enjoy exercising in water that helps keep them cool.

Water workouts to try

Just being in the water encourages movement, but you can also try these workout ideas.

Swimming. Lap swimming can relieve pain and improve cardiovascular health. Start by holding on to a kickboard, if needed.

Walking in water. In water that's between waist- and chest-high, walk forward about 10 to 20 steps. As you step forward with each foot, swing your opposite arm. The resistance from the water helps build strength in the hip flexors and knee extensors. To add to the challenge, try:

  • Walking backward to strengthen hip extensors.
  • Sidestepping to strengthen the pelvis.
  • Running to build endurance.

Balancing on one leg. Stand on one leg and raise the opposite one to hip level. Try to hold it for 30 seconds. Use a pool noodle under the raised leg for support, if needed.

Water aerobics. Fitness centers often offer water aerobics classes. Let the instructor know about your goals and limitations. They can offer suggestions to help.

Safety first

Before beginning any exercise program, check in with your healthcare provider. Your provider might be able to refer you to a physical therapist with experience in water workouts.


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