Water aerobics is fast becoming a popular exercise trend among all age groups. Exercising in water is considered a therapeutic exercise, which has accelerated the uptake of water aerobics as mainstream exercise in different parts of the world.
Experts have investigated the advantages of water aerobics, and have found that this form of exercise accrues several benefits to all of those who participate in it. Benefits include strength and cardio building as well as promoting joint strength.
The following are some health benefits of water aerobics according to science, as well as helpful tips for beginners.
I. Water aerobics helps improve flexibility
Scientific studies show that water aerobics can help improve flexibility as the joints increase their range of motion when they adjust to the resistance of the water. Experts opine that water aerobics helps increase the range of motion of the joints especially in older individuals (1).
In addition, experiments done on the elderly, (individuals aged 60-82), show that aquatic exercise significantly increases their shoulder flexibility (2).
Studies also show that water based exercises are crucial in improving flexibility, and mobility in individuals suffering from either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis (3).
A study conducted on obese children in elementary school showed that aquatic exercises helped improve their flexibility when compared to the control group (4).
Bottom Line: Aquatic aerobic exercises help improve the flexibility and mobility of all individuals including those who suffer from obesity, RA, osteoarthritis, and the elderly.
II. Water aerobics helps build work capacity and endurance
Scientific research shows that water aerobics has the capability to increase aerobic capacity ( work capacity) as well as endurance in individuals, especially those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (5).
Other studies show that people are more likely to exercise for longer in water than in land, which helps build up endurance in individuals (6).
Research has also shown that exercising in the water is a social connector, and people are more likely to do it longer because of the people they are working out with (6). Longer periods of exercising in the water helps to greatly increase the individual’s endurance as well as work capacity.
Studies also indicate that water aerobics can improve the cardiovascular endurance of individuals, both young and old (7).
One study found that high intensity deep water training, a form of water-based exercise, can help significantly improve work capacity, ventilation, and maximal aerobic power of elderly women who were participants (8).
Research has conclusively shown that water-based exercises can help increase the endurance and aerobic capacity of arthritis patients by nearly 24% (9).
Bottom Line: Water based exercises are effective in promoting aerobic/work capacity and endurance in individuals.
III. Water aerobics helps increase muscle strength and function
Research shows that participating in water aerobics can help improve muscular function, especially in individuals with reduced muscular function such as those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (5)
Scientific research has proven that water aerobics helps to significantly improve muscle strength especially in older individuals. One study showed that older individuals possessed greater leg strength after participating in water aerobics for some time (1).
In addition, scientific studies show that participating in water exercises regularly can significantly improve muscle strength without putting undue stress on the joints (6).
Scientific studies also show that exercising in water can help in reducing the effects and symptoms of fibromyalgia, a disease characterized by muscular and skeletal pain (6).
Experts in the field also postulate that water-based exercises help to improve and maintain muscle strength in individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s (7).
Studies also show that water aerobics helps avoid muscle pain in individuals who experience such pain whenever they exercise (10).
Another study showed that aquatic aerobic exercise was the most effective form of exercise for the treatment of fibromyalgia in females (11).
Studies also indicate that water based exercises are effective in improving muscle strength and function of individuals who have suffered from stroke (12).
A study conducted on obese children in elementary school showed that aquatic exercise helped improve muscular strength and endurance in these kids significantly (4).
Studies also indicate that training in the water helps activate the working of opposing muscle groups owing to the resistance of the water (9). The result is a more balanced workout, enhanced muscle training, as well as ensuring minimal lactic acid buildup.
Furthermore, water aerobics is considered one of the easiest ways of incorporating muscle strength building on a weekly basis (13).
Studies also postulate that water aerobics helps improve muscle function and endurance in elderly obese women (13).
Bottom Line: owing to the resistance offered by the water, aquatic aerobic exercise is important when it comes to muscle building, and enhancing muscle function.
IV. Water aerobics helps reduce stress as well as anxiety
Scientific evidence indicates that aquatic aerobic exercise can help reduce physiological stress in pregnant women, which then promotes the wellbeing of both mother and child (10, 14). Studies have shown that physiological stress during pregnancy can result in negative adverse outcomes for the baby.
Swimming, a common form of water exercise, has been shown to significantly boost mood in both men and women (10).
One experiment showed that water aerobics was useful in improving the tranquility, positive engagement, as well as the moods of elderly individuals (2).
Other studies have shown that water based exercises such as swimming can be meditative and relaxing. This helps provide stress relief to individuals (15).
It has also been reported that exercising in warm water can help improve mood, decrease anxiety, and depression in individuals suffering from fibromyalgia (10).
Furthermore, studies show that aquatic aerobic exercise can help boost the confidence of individuals who are often anxious about working out especially on land (9).
On the same note, if you are a beginner, you will not have to feel intimidated about missing the steps because you are submerged, and no one will notice you missing the step (16). This will help build your confidence up to a point where you feel comfortable exercising on land where everyone can see what you are doing.
Bottom Line: Water aerobics can help reduce stress and anxiety in a variety of people including pregnant women and the elderly, as well as boost the confidence of individuals who are anxious about exercising.
V. Water aerobics is effective in burning calories, reducing body weight, and preventing obesity
Several studies indicate that water aerobics is effective in burning calories, as well as reducing body fat mass, and body weight (1). In fact, studies have shown that water aerobics helps burn about 402 calories every hour for individuals that weigh 160 pounds or more (7, 9).
Another study showed that water aerobics can be useful in reducing triglyceride levels in the human body, as well as reducing waist circumference (17). All of these efforts go towards reducing overall body weight.
Studies show that water exercise can be effective in preventing abdominal obesity, which continues to be rampant in different parts of the world (16).
Studies also indicate that aquatic based exercises such as swimming help burn the same calories as walking briskly (15).
Research also shows that aquatic aerobic exercises can be more effective than land-based exercises for overweight individuals because the buoyancy of the water helps alleviate the stress on the joints (7). This helps overweight individuals exercise more, which then promotes healthy weight loss.
Studies have also shown that aquatic exercise is more effective for reduction in body fat percentage, as well as increasing fat free mass in overweight children (4).
Some research also alludes to the fact that the average temperature of the water during a group fitness session in the pool is around 78 degrees, which will help burn calories in order for the body to achieve homeostasis with the surrounding water mass, while still maintaining a cool atmosphere that is comfortable for people to work out in (13).
Studies done on elderly individuals also suggest that water-based programs over a 10 week period can help reduce their weight and body fat percentage, without the need for vigorous exercise, which their bodies may be unable to perform (18).
It is also important to point out that water offers more resistance compared to air, which suggests that any movement made in water requires more effort, and leads to the shedding off of more calories (16).
In addition, exercising in water is often more enjoyable than doing so on land, and people form strong social connections while exercising together in the water. The fact that it is more enjoyable as well as a social function makes it easier for people to adhere to the fitness programs, which will help them manage their weight more effectively over a long time (6).
Bottom Line: Water based exercises are as effective, if not more than, as land based exercises when it comes to preventing and managing obesity, as well as promoting weight loss amongst all individuals such as the elderly, and the obese.
VI. Water aerobics helps relieve pressure on the joints
Scientific research has shown that water aerobics is an excellent form of low-impact exercise, which goes easy on the joints (3). This is particularly important in elderly individuals, obese individuals, as well as those who suffer from arthritis, among other serious conditions.
Performing exercise in water ensures that the joints are supported, which enables individuals with limited joint mobility to perform exercises that they cannot be able to do while they are on land (10).
Studies show that water aerobics significantly improves joint function in individuals that are suffering from cognitive decline and impairments such as those suffering from Alzheimer’s (19).
Bottom Line: Owing to its low impact characteristic, water aerobics is essential exercise that does not add undue pressure on joints, which is crucial in elderly people, the obese, those who suffer from musculoskeletal damage, as well as those who suffer from cognitive impairment.
VII. Water aerobics can help lower body temperature
Aqua therapy studies have also established that exercising in water helps prevent overheating in elderly individuals (9).
Water-based aerobic exercise is also beneficial for individuals who sweat a lot while working out on land (9). The water automatically cools your body, which prevents overheating, and subsequently excessive sweating. In addition, the water will remove any perspiration, enabling you to have an easier time exercising.
Water aerobics is also ideal for pregnant women because it prevents them from overheating, a common occurrence in pregnant women (9).
Bottom Line: Water aerobics aids in cooling the body, which helps prevent overheating when exercising, and helps lower the body’s core temperature.
VIII. Water aerobics can help reduce blood pressure
Scientific research has also led to the conclusion that water-based aerobics is effective in reducing blood pressure if done regularly and over a long period (13).
Moreover, scientific evidence shows that water aerobic exercise over a 10 week period significantly reduces the arterial and systolic blood pressures of individuals suffering from essential hypertension (20). This makes this form of exercise ideal for obese individuals, as well as for those who suffer from bronchospasm.
Studies have also shown that water-based exercise programs help reduce the systolic blood pressures of elderly individuals, thereby helping to improve their health (21).
Research has also shown that water aerobics helps bring down the resting blood pressures of individuals who are suffering from hypertension (20).
Bottom Line: Water aerobics can help reduce blood pressure in individuals especially in the elderly and in those who suffer from hypertension.
IX. Water aerobics can help improve cardiovascular function
Scientific research shows that water aerobics can significantly improve cardiovascular function in all individuals, including those who may be suffering from serious ailments. For instance, one study showed that water exercise helped improve cardiovascular fitness in individuals suffering from stroke (22).
Studies indicate that individuals who regularly participate in water aerobics are less at risk of developing heart diseases (15).
Scientific research also shows that water aerobics can help improve cardiovascular function by reducing triglyceride levels as well as increasing the high density lipoprotein cholesterol, which is the good cholesterol (20).
Studies also indicate that water aerobics can help prevent dyslipidemia, especially for high-risk individuals (16).
It is also well-known in medical circles that aquatic aerobic exercise can help patients with pulmonary diseases, as well as coronary artery disease to achieve health and fitness (23).
Other studies have shown that hydrostatic pressure increases when the body is in water, which helps improve blood flow back to the heart, thereby reducing the strain and stress we place on our hearts (12).
Studies also indicate that warm-water aerobic exercise improves cardiac function in individuals who suffer from chronic heart failure (24).
Studies conducted on obese children showed that water-based exercises helped improve the cardiopulmonary function of these individuals despite their weight (4).
Bottom Line: Water aerobics is useful when it comes to promoting cardiovascular health because it promotes improved blood flow, improved cardiopulmonary function, and prevent dyslipidemia. In addition, water aerobics helps lower destructive cholesterol in the blood stream thereby preventing various diseases of the heart.
X. Water aerobics can help improve balance and gait
Several scientific experiments have shown that water aerobics is more effective in improving the gait, joint position sense, and balance of individuals, including those who are suffering from stroke (12).
Scientific evidence also points to the fact that aqua-based exercise is effective in improving gait and balance in older individuals, especially those who suffer from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (3).
Furthermore, exercising in the water provides a safe environment for individuals who have less balance control, which minimizes their chances of falling, or causing injury to themselves (13).
Studies targeting individuals who have suffered from stroke also shows that water-based exercises are more effective than land-based exercises in improving the gait and balance of individuals who have suffered a stroke (25).
Moreover, research has shown that water-based exercise over a certain period of time can help improve balance in women who are suffering from osteoporosis (26). Improvement in balance will minimize their risk of falling and fractures.
Scientific research also alludes to the point that water aerobics is ideal for promoting balance and coordination among pregnant women (9).
Bottom Line: Water-based exercises help to improve the gait and balance of all individuals, including those who suffer from osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis. Improved balance ensures that they do not fall easily and fracture themselves.
XI. Water aerobics can help combat different types of arthritis
Several studies have shown that exercising in water can help reduce the pain associated with arthritis, as well as reducing other symptoms of arthritis (3, 6). Scientific evidence also points to the fact that water based exercises help arthritic patients improve their joint function.
Studies also show that aqua based exercise helps promote long-term adherence, which can help prevent the occurrence of disabilities associated with arthritis (3, 6).
In addition, studies show that water based exercise can help improve the use and movement of joints in individuals suffering from arthritis without aggravating the symptoms of arthritis (9, 10).
It is theorized that water may be the only environment where people suffering from arthritis can conduct a full body workout without feeling pain (9).
Studies also indicate that arthritis patients attain more health improvements when they participate in water-based exercises compared to land-based (10).
Aquatic aerobic exercises have also been shown to reduce joint tenderness in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, as well as improve their psychological well-being, and enhance their knee range of movement (27).
Water exercises help relieve pain in individuals suffering from osteoarthritis, and help them make use of the affected joints (10).
Bottom Line: Water aerobics is effective in combating the symptoms and pain associated with different forms of arthritis.
XII. Water aerobics can help improve mental health
Studies also indicate that exercising in water can help improve mental health in people, especially when it comes to offsetting the symptoms of dementia (6, 10, 28).
Several studies have also indicated that aquatic therapy is beneficial for individuals who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease because it helps improve cognition (7), and helps such people function more effectively despite their cognitive impairments.
Furthermore, studies indicate that aqua based aerobic exercise can help improve the mental health of pregnant women (10,14).
Bottom Line: Water aerobics, just like any other form of exercise, can help improve cognitive function in all individuals including those who suffer from cognitive impairments.
XIII. Water aerobics can help improve quality of life
Studies on pregnant women indicate that water-based exercise can help dramatically improve the quality of life for these women (29).
Studies also show that water aerobics helps to improve the quality of life for individuals who are suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s (28). Water aerobics improves the independence of these individuals, which gives their lives immense value.
Scientific research also indicates that water aerobics can help improve mobility in stroke sufferers, which significantly increases their independence, thereby enhancing their quality of life (12).
Studies indicate that water-based exercises can help improve the quality of life of older individuals, enabling them to be independent and decreasing their chances of becoming disabled (9, 10).
Scientific experiments also show that water-based exercises help improve health related quality of life for frail elderly individuals, by minimizing activities of daily living disability, as well enhancing exercise habits for these at-risk individuals (30).
In addition, studies have also shown that water-based exercises can help improve quality of life for individuals who are suffering from musculoskeletal diseases including osteoporosis (26, 31).
Several studies have also shown that water-based exercises significantly improve the quality of life of individuals who suffer from chronic low back pain by affording them effective pain relief (32).
Furthermore, water exercises has been shown to increase the overall quality of life of obese older women (13).
Bottom Line: Water aerobics can significantly improve the quality of life of at-risk individuals.
XIV. Water aerobics is a low-impact exercise for people with injuries or pain
Water aerobics is considered a low impact exercise because the water lowers an individual’s weight significantly (7). When the weight is lowered, there is less stress placed on the joints as well as the bones. The buoyancy of the water also increases the individual's’ range of motion.
It is considered the best low-impact exercise currently, and it is suitable for people who are suffering from back, ankles, and knee injuries (7).
Research also indicates that water aerobics is also ideal for those individuals who are suffering from stress fractures (7).
Being a low impact exercise, water aerobics is also ideal for individuals who are suffering from back and neck problems, as well as those who are victims of stroke (7).
Water exercise also confers pain relief benefits to individuals who are suffering from back pain, and back injuries (31).
When it comes to back pain, scientific research has shown that water-based exercises are more efficient in relieving back pain in pregnant women compared to land-based exercises (9). Thus, water aerobics can be recommended for the treatment of lower back pain for pregnant women.
Research also shows that aquatic aerobic exercises are more impactful at relieving pain in patients who suffer from chronic low back pain (32).
Bottom Line: Water aerobics is a low impact exercise, making it ideal for individuals who are suffering from a variety of injuries such as stress fractures, and back problems.
XV. Water aerobics helps improve bone health
Studies show that aqua based aerobics helps to improve the bone health of women who are post-menopausal (10, 33).
Research has also indicated that water aerobics can help improve the outcomes for patients who are suffering from osteoporosis because it markedly improves bone density (34).
Scientific studies show that water exercise can help improve bone density because the water offers resistance as an individual attempts to move through the water (34). This resistance places stress on the skeletal system, which then promote muscle tension.
This entire process leads to stronger bones, which is very important in individuals suffering from osteoporosis, as well as those with compromised bone health (26).
Bottom Line: Water aerobics is an excellent form of exercise because it can significantly improve bone health by increasing bone density.
Tips for Beginners
1. Start slowly
The best tip for beginners when it comes to water aerobics is to start slowly. Depending on your health, only take on water based exercises that your body is comfortable undertaking (15). If you overdo it at the beginning, you will end up feeling sore, and in some scenarios, you can actually become injured, or aggravate an injury.
Start with simple exercises for short periods at a time, and you will notice that your endurance continues to increase. As your flexibility, range of motions, and endurance increase, you can proceed to longer, high intensity workouts in the water.
Set your workout goals low in the beginning so that you do not end up overworking yourself, or straining yourself too much. Remember that water aerobics is meant to be enjoyable, and the more enjoyable it, the more likely you are to stick to your fitness routine.
2. Join a swimming class in your local gym or pool
Enroll in a swimming class at the local pool or gym, if any of these establishments offer such classes. Trained professionals usually teach the classes and they will be able to create exercises that are suitable for your health and fitness needs.
In addition, performing water-based exercises as part of a group has been shown to increase adherence as well as exercising regularly over a long period because of the social bonds that the participants form (3).
Furthermore, look for a water aerobics instructor who is an expert at all levels of water aerobics. This will ensure that you stick with the same individual as you increase your skill set in water-based exercises (35).
The instructor should be certified in both First Aid and CPR. This is crucial as accidents can occur in the swimming pool that will require the use of these skills. Furthermore, enquire if there is a trained lifeguard stationed at the swimming pool during your class especially if you are not a good swimmer, or if you suffer from a fear of water (35).
In addition, inquire whether the pool is deep enough for you to exercise in, if you are relatively taller than the average person is (35).
However, it is not necessary for you to join a class if such an option is unavailable. You can set up your own schedule in the local swimming pool, and do the aquatic exercises on your own terms.
3. What you should wear for water aerobics
Just as it is for land-based exercises, you should invest in comfortable and functional wear for water-based aerobic exercises (35).
Your swimwear should be chlorine-resistant to ensure that constant exposure to chlorine does not eat away at the material of the swimsuit (36). Invest in a swimsuit that is made of polyester or polybutylene terephthalate material. Such materials possess more elasticity than spandex, are quick drying, as well as having low water absorbency rates, making them highly resistant to chlorine.
Finding the right chlorine resistant swimsuit will enable you to take your water aerobics classes as regularly as possible (36). On the other hand, it will take at most 4 weeks for your spandex swimsuit to wear out, which might disrupt your class schedule.
In addition, your aquatics aerobics fitness instructor may require you to bring along water shoes (35). Water shoes are essential for strenuous fitness exercises in the water. When selecting water shoes, you need to ensure that they have thick rubber soles, are adjustable, have foam padding, and provide ventilation for your feet.
Furthermore, you need to ensure the shoes are the right fit for you (37). Many shoes come in a one-fit all size, but it is recommended to pick one that is your actual size.
Another tool of the trade is a swimming/bathing cap. You will be required to wear a swimming cap in majority of these establishments so that you do not clog the drains with hair (35).
You should also remember to carry and apply your sunscreen if you will be exercising in an outdoor swimming pool (35). The sunscreen will help you avoid sunburn especially if you will be exercising for long periods at a time.
4. Always begin with a warm-up
Just like in land-based exercises, you should always begin your water exercises with a warm up. Warm ups in the water will typically include walking in the pool as well as doing lunges in the pool. Scientific research suggests that the best way to warm-up in the water is to walk forwards and backwards in chest or waist high water (38).
After a few minutes of walking slowly back and forth, you should be able to increase your momentum, and start moving faster. Alternatively, if you find that walking back and forth in the pool is not working for you, then you can attempt to jog on the spot for at least five minutes (*).
Once you are done with the walking or jogging in place, you should proceed to doing low impact
lunges. The American Physical Therapy Association recommends that individuals do at least 3 sets of 10 lunges each. A forward lunge will involve the participant taking a step forward, bending the front knee, and resuming the original position. It is important that you do not take the front knee too forward, as this may cause or exacerbate knee injuries. You should still be able to see your toes when you bend your knee forward.
5. Always cool down after exercising in the water
It is also important to cool down after participating in water-based exercises (38). The best way to cool down after a water workout is to walk in the water just as you did when you were warming up. You should walk up and down for at least ten minutes, and you should also incorporate hip stretches.
6. Types of intensity aqua-based exercises
After warming up, you should begin intensity workout exercises that include side steps as well as water kicks. Incorporating these forms of exercises will help you to achieve a well-balanced workout.
Side step walking generally involves nearing the pool wall, and then taking approximately as many steps as you can to one side, and then returning back to the original position. Repeat the side steps at least two times then you can take a rest.
Once you are done, you can then move on to hip kicks. The aim of this exercise is to help build leg muscle power, as well as provide strength and resistance training (38). These kicks are also important for encouraging increased range of motion for your hip joints, and can help relieve lower back pain.
Hip kicks will involve you going near the wall of the pool, and then moving one leg forward, and then backward. Do this for the other leg, and continue with this sequence for at least 3 sets of 10 kicks for each leg (38). Ensure that your knee is straight at all times while conducting these forms of exercises.
7. Working out your abs in the water
Abs workouts are a major priority for individuals who pursue aqua-based exercises. Many people have embraced water-based exercises because they have seen that it is significantly beneficial in improving their fitness (38).
To work out your abdominal muscles while in the water, you will need to attach a floatation belt, especially if you are working out in the deeper end of the pool. Bring both of your knees up to chest level, and then down again. Repeat this procedure for three sets with each set containing 10 knee pull-ups.
Moving your knees in different directions, and then bringing them up, is another great way of working out your spine as well as oblique muscles (*). You can do 3 sets of 10 knee rotating exercises to help you achieve a balanced workout.
Another great tip for working your abdominal muscles while you are in the water is to balance on one leg for at least ten seconds. Your other leg should be as high as possible tucked within the inner thigh of the leg that is on the ground (*). Repeat this for at least three sets, and you can even make it more challenging by allowing your hands above your head. This exercise will help you work out your core muscles, and strengthen your back.
8. When you should not exercise in water
There are some instances where experts advise individuals not to participate in water-based aerobics. For instance, it is not advisable for individuals suffering from certain heart conditions to participate in water-based exercises as these may aggravate their heart problems (38).
In addition, you need to refrain from exercising in the water if you suffer from recurring seizures or a contagious infection (38).
If you have a severe fear of water, then you should explore other forms of exercise, and avoid working out in the water (38).
9. Incorporate exercising tools
Working out in the water builds muscle strength owing to the resistance you encounter as you attempt to move through the water.
However, you can increase the muscle and strength training by using paddles, and noodles to boost muscle building (38).
You should also incorporate water ankle cuffs, exercise balls, jogger belts, water dumbbells, and kickboards to your regular routine for a more effective workout session (38).
10. General tips to remember while working out
An important tip to remember while doing your workout in the water is to always keep your limbs straight throughout the entire session (35). This will help you gain the most from the water fitness session.
In addition, you need to drink a significant amount of water as you exercise, despite the fact that you are exercising in the water (35). It is paramount that you remain hydrated throughout the entire aerobics session because you are sweating a lot while performing these exercises.
Furthermore, you need to eat before you begin your water aerobics session (39). You should avoid the rhetoric that eating before going for a swim is bad. It is highly important that you eat something that will provide energy for you to work out.
Another tip is to try different workouts until you find the one that is right for you, and that you enjoy the most (40). If you want a robust workout, you can try Zumba or kickboxing. For a more relaxing water aerobics session, you should try water-based tai chi and yoga classes. There are so many classes to choose from, and you should give yourself the opportunity to experience as many of them as you possibly can.