Staying active is integral to your health at every life stage, but pain may limit you from participating in some of the activities you once enjoyed. If you have access to a swimming pool, pool exercises are a wonderful way to stay fit and healthy, whether swimming, moving or simply walking in the shallow end.
Two benefits of water aerobics are that they’re low-impact and put less stress on your joints because of water’s buoyancy. Water also provides resistance as you move through it, which helps you gain muscle strength.
Here are 12 water exercises for seniors to get you started. These include full-body movements, as well as lower body and upper body exercises.
Simply walking or jogging in the water may be the easiest pool exercise for seniors, and the best one to start with. Depending on your level of fitness, you can begin by walking in the shallow end from one wall to the other and back again. Increase the number of “laps” and your pace as you feel able. If you already walk for exercise, you’ll feel how the water’s resistance makes it a little bit harder, but without pain. If your heart rate is at a healthy level and you’re ready, consider jogging across the pool.
Marching in Place
Marching requires exercising a little more control over your arms and legs than walking, helping to build muscle strength. Make your hands into fists and bend your arms at the elbow, keeping them close to your body. Raise one leg through the knee and then the other, marching in place and landing first on the ball of your foot and then the heel. Your opposite arm should be moving forward and back in rhythm with your opposite leg. Be sure to stand tall with a straight back.
Calf raises are a great way to both stretch and strengthen this portion of your leg. Stand with your feet flat on the pool floor and your arms down at your sides. Slowly raise yourself onto your toes and hold that position for 1-2 seconds, if you can. Then gently lower your feet back down. You can do this while facing the wall and holding onto the edge of the pool if you need help staying balanced.
Stand with your feet staggered one in front of the other and bend your knees. This position will help you maintain your balance and give you leverage against the water’s resistance. Make sure that you’re standing in water that’s deep enough so when you bend your knees, only your head and neck are above water and your shoulders are submerged. Extend your arms out on both sides of your body, keeping the elbows straight. Move your arms forward until they meet with palms together, as if you’re pushing the water in front of you. Then reverse your hands so that the palms are facing away from each other and slowly move your arms in the reverse motion, as if you’re pulling the water back to your sides. Pause, and then repeat the motions. Repeat 10 times, with control.
Stand in a deep enough part of the pool so that the water comes up to your shoulders. Maintain a balanced position with your legs shoulder width apart and straight (don’t bend your knees unless you need the additional back support). Extend both arms straight out to the sides, then slowly and with control bend the elbows and bring your forearms up 90 degrees. Hold, then bring your forearms back down until you have straight arms. You can do these biceps curls with a fist or with your fingers together, cupping the water to add a bit of resistance. Do 10-12 repetitions.
Follow the same instructions as biceps curls for stance and water depth. Start with your arms straight down at your sides, then slowly raise them, keeping the elbow locked and the arm straight, until the arms are straight out from your shoulders and resting just under the surface of the pool. Then, slowly press the water back down as you bring them back to the starting position. Repeat 10-12 times.
Now, turn your palms so they’re facing back and raise your arms, still in a straight, elbows-locked position, right in front of you until they’re parallel to the pool floor and just under the water’s surface. Hold for one second, then slowly return them to the starting position. Repeat 10-12 times.
Put your hands on the pool wall a little more than shoulder width apart. Keeping your feet firmly on the floor of the pool, lean into the wall and then push out through your hands. Make sure you’re close enough to the wall that you don’t lose your balance or lock your elbows as you push back out. Do 10 of these if you can. As you gain strength, try to do two to three repetitions of 10 push-ups, resting for 30 seconds between sets.
Leg Lifts (Hip Extension/Flexion)
Hold onto the pool wall or the stair railing with your right hand. Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart, with the toes facing forward. Keep your back straight and your eyes looking forward (not at the pool, not at the sky). With the knee locked to keep the leg straight, slowly swing your left leg forward and then backward. Focus on extending your leg out from the hip. Do this 10 times and then switch sides. Turn around so you’re holding onto the wall or railing with your left hand, and then repeat the exercise with your right leg. You can add to this by pointing your toes as you swing your leg forward and then flexing your foot as you swing the leg back.
Left Lifts (Hip Abduction/Adduction)
Hold onto the pool wall or railing as with the hip extension/flexion exercise. Starting with your right hand holding on, raise your left leg out to the side and then bring it back, in front of your body and past the right foot. Be sure to keep your toes pointed forward and your knee as tight as you can to keep the leg straight through the entire movement.
Stand up straight in the pool. If you need to hold the wall for balance, face it and hold it with one or both hands. Start with a straight body and bend your left leg back at the knee as if you’re trying to kick your glutes, then bring your foot back down again. Be sure you don’t bring your knee forward during this exercise, and try to keep the opposite hip from pushing out to the side to compensate for the movement. Try to do 10 repetitions before switching to the other side.
Hold onto the side of the pool, with your belly facing upward. Allow your feet to drift up behind you. Extend your legs back as straight as you can and kick your feet up and down in small, controlled motions. Try to keep your body straight and your feet together. To increase your leg strength, you can build up to kicking with your legs as well as your feet. Remember not to bend the knees. Kick for 15-30 seconds.
This is one of the more difficult water exercises for seniors, as it requires you to be a little more flexible. Stand with your back to the pool wall, and then reach behind you to grasp the wall with both hands. You can do this by bending your elbows and extending your wrists up and over your shoulders or extending your arms behind you and holding on behind your back. When you’ve got a firm hold on the wall, release your feet from the pool floor. Bring your knees up to your chest, hold for 5-10 seconds, and then place your feet back on the ground. Repeat 10 times.
These water exercises for seniors are a great way to get started with your pool workouts. There are many more exercises you can do in the water, making changes as you go to increase or decrease resistance and work on balance. Many of the ones here can be done without the help of the pool wall or stair railing if you feel up to it. Simply keep your core tight to help with balance (with the added benefit that this helps strengthen those important core muscles).
You can also increase the benefits of water aerobics by adding simple exercise equipment such as pool noodles, water weights, ankle weights, hand paddles, and even flippers for your feet. But the great thing about these 12 pool exercises is that you don’t need to have anything but a swimsuit and access to a pool to get started today!
Before you start any new exercise routine, be sure to check in with your physician. Always modify exercises that cause pain or discomfort! At One Medical Seniors, we help you come up with a plan to meet your health goals which can include exercise.
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