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Water-based exercise is one of the best ways to incorporate regular, safe, and effective exercise into your workout routine. Besides providing an effective stimulus for an increase in overall fitness, it also serves as an effective mechanism for recovery.
Benefits of Exercising in Water
Water-based training can help improve your health in the following ways:
1. Promotes cardiovascular health
Water exercise has tremendous benefits in relation to systolic and mean arterial blood pressure. (1) Additionally, regular adherence to a water-based training program can produce increased aerobic capacity and oxygen uptake. (2)
When compared to land-based aerobic endurance training, water-based training seems to take on similar improvements in aerobic endurance as well. (3) Overall, you can expect to have a very positive cardiovascular effect from regular participation in water-based training.
2. Increases muscular strength and endurance
Improvements in lower limb function and strength have been demonstrated with consistent adherence to water-based training. (4)(5) However, it is important to note that there is a significant difference in the amount of improvement, and that is heavily correlated with the intensity of water-based exercise.
With that being said, differences between the depths of water/submersion levels play a significant role in the intensity and, therefore, the effectiveness of water-based exercise.
Neck level submersion in water decreases peripheral resistance, which thereby produces a greater venous return and more oxidative capacity for individuals.
Additionally, one research indicated that underwater treadmill walking provided a sufficient stimulus to elicit significant energy expenditure and also caused improved walking performance and reduced walking heart rate in the study participants. (6)
3. Improves range of motion and mobility
The mechanical properties of water result in less pressure on joints, reduced heart rate, improved mobility, and low incidence of falling. (7)
The natural buoyancy of water also increases the probability that participants with dry-land limitations can now perform more complex movement patterns in the water.
One study indicated that water exercise can result in improvements in motor control, postural mobility, and gait. (7)
4. Helps in rehabilitation from injuries
This is especially critical for individuals who are recovering from lower limb, back, and neurological injuries where dry-land activities can be contraindicated.
One research indicated that water-based training improved incidences of lower back pain and disability and also increased overall well-being in individuals with chronic low back pain. (8)
Furthermore, results of a study on the effects of aquatic exercise and pulmonary function in patients with spinal cord injuries found that the implementation of water-based exercise provided a better pulmonary function response than dry-land exercises in the patients. (9)
Highly Recommended Water-Based Exercises
Various types of programming can be initiated in water due to the mechanical properties of water:
1. Endurance workout
Many entry-level water-based programs are initiated in shallow water where participants can touch the pool floor and perform a wide range of functional activities. Some of the best exercises that can be done in shallow water include hip and shoulder mobility and endurance exercises.
Due to the all-encompassing resistance of water against the body, individuals can safely and effectively move their limbs through various ranges of motion to increase their mobility and muscular endurance.
2. Water aerobics
Many aquatic facilities offer water aerobics as a low-impact option for increasing heart rate and overall intensity in order to elicit cardiorespiratory improvements in people.
The recommended depth of pools for effective shallow-water aerobics is 3–5 feet. At this level, participants should be submerged between their chest and shoulders, which would allow for 80%–90% percent of their body weight to be supported in the water.
3. Deep-water running
Another effective activity that can be performed in water is deep-water running. Due to the significantly greater depth of the pool and consistent neck-level submersion involved in deep-water running, the intensity is much greater than that of shallow-water running.
Individuals who are strong swimmers or who can tread water effectively can perform deep-water running without the aid of a flotation jacket. However, for individuals who are not proficient swimmers or who cannot tread water well, the use of a flotation jacket is highly recommended.
During deep-water running, individuals mimic the dry-land motion of running in a deep-water pool environment. In fact, research indicated that there is a strong association between deep-water running and dry-land running in terms of cardiovascular demand on the body. (10)
However, it should also be noted that this association becomes stronger when an individual’s skill level and experience increase with deep water running.
With such a close association with dry-land running, deep-water running is a highly effective means of water training for the improvement of cardiorespiratory and muscular endurance. (11)
Additionally, deep-water running has many positive effects on general recovery and maintenance of aerobic performance over a prolonged period. Past research has indicated that deep-water running can maintain aerobic performance in trained athletes for up to 6 weeks. (12)
Overall, water-based exercise programs can be highly effective and indicated for both healthy and special populations. For many people, water-based exercise can be a powerful alternative or wonderful complement to land-based training. Either way, water-based exercise is a viable and appropriate exercise option for most adults.