Swimming is an excellent form of low-impact exercise for seniors so today we will talk about swimming exercises for seniors!
I talk a lot about the benefits and importance of exercise and especially strength training for seniors. Sometimes I tend to forget, as to other healthy people, that all seniors can’t or don’t want to do regular strength training.
Things like lower back pain, joint inflammation, arthritis, obesity, and just personal preference can prevent one from going to the gym or doing home-based strength training.
Swimming is actually great for both improving strength and cardiovascular health. It’s not optimal for improving strength but it will get the job done. It’s also great for rehabilitation from injuries that prevent you from supporting your whole body weight.
The magic of swimming is in the fact that the buoyancy of the water will support some of your body weight while you have to perform physical exercise to support the rest. Since water is liquid, there will be no hard impacts either.
This gives a perfect combination of lowered resistance and low-impact exercise if you suffer from any kind of disability, pain or ailment that prevents you from performing many other forms of exercise.
Benefits of swimming for seniors
Swimming is a great form of exercise for seniors. But it’s not suitable for everyone as I mentioned in the article Is Swimming Good For Seniors?
The benefits of swimming for seniors are the same as most exercises. It helps you maintain your strength, muscle mass, and mobility. It improves your cardiovascular health, balance and even cognition. We are simply made to move. When you stop moving your body starts to deteriorate.
To keep your body healthy as you age, you need to take care of two things, your cardiovascular health, and your muscular strength and mass.
Different forms of exercise help to achieve this. For cardiovascular health endurance-based exercises like jogging, cycling or kayaking are optimal. For strength and muscle mass, different forms of strength training are optimal.
There isn’t a perfect line when exercise becomes endurance based and when it becomes strength-based. While it is true that for optimal strength training, you should do exercises with weights that allow you to do around 20 repetitions at maximum, any exercise that activates your muscles will help you maintain your strength levels.
Likewise, strength training done with heavy weights will also improve your cardiovascular health more than being sedentary, so it’s all about personal preference and how optimized you want your training to be.
For the best results, I would suggest doing a couple of sessions of strength training and a couple of sessions of cardio per week. But if you want to get a double benefit, swimming is a great option.
Because swimming requires you to use all the muscles of your body to stay on the surface, it’s great for muscle activation as well as improving cardiovascular health.
If you can, you should still combine regular strength training with swimming as it will only keep your strength levels at the bare minimum for health purposes.
That said, if you have been bedridden or otherwise inactive for an extended time, swimming can help you improve your strength enough to start performing other types of exercise.
Water exercises for seniors with arthritis
Swimming is an especially good form of exercise if you suffer from arthritis. This is because swimming is essentially a zero-impact sport which means it takes most of the strain off your joints.
As you surely know, arthritis can affect one or several joints in your body and especially lower body arthritis can make exercise incredibly hard, painful, and frustrating. I talked more about this in the article Best Recumbent Bike For Seniors With Arthritis.
While moving in water can have a soothing effect on your arthritis, it can be too painful to swim with severe arthritis. If this is the case you can do supported water exercises to gradually improve mobility, strength, and circulation in the joints.
You can perform these at special pools with special racks for supporting your body weight with your arms, so you don’t have to use as much force to stay on the surface. You can also simply hold on to the side of the pool or the ladder while calmly doing kicks with your legs for example.
Another great way to help you stay on the surface are pool noodles which we will talk about next!
Pool noodle exercises for seniors
Pool noodles are essentially long floats that you can keep under your armpits to stay afloat. They are especially useful if you are not confident with your swimming skills or have disabilities or ailments that prevent you from staying on the surface without some additional help.
Pool noodles are made out of foam plastic. The air bubbles within the plastic will make the noodle float and provide enough buoyancy to support most of your body weight as well.
Typically pool noodles won’t support the whole body weight of an adult, so they are only meant to be used as assistance, you still need to swim yourself to stay afloat.
Besides helping you keep on the surface, pool noodles can be used as resistance in shallow water. Pushing the noodle under the surface requires force because of the buoyancy.
You can use the noodle to perform different kinds of pushing movements against this resistance to do a low-impact form of strength training.
Here are some great ideas for pool noodles exercises by Fitmotivation (YouTube embed, content not created or owned by ElderStrength.com):
Water Aerobics exercises
Water aerobics is a more demanding form of water exercise that’s suitable for seniors as well. It’s typically done in a guided class but you can also perform water aerobics by yourself.
There are both video and audio programs you can use to do water aerobics alone but you naturally have to keep in mind that both listening to audio and watching a video in the pool can be quite difficult unless you have a private pool with a huge screen.
That’s why water aerobics are best done at a public swimming pool with guided water aerobics classes. But if you prefer doing them alone, you can invest in some waterproof headphones that you can listen to for instructions.
Here’s a great example of a water aerobics workout by Water Exercise Coach(YouTube embed, content not created or owned by ElderStrength.com):
Pool Yoga for Seniors
Another great water exercise option for seniors is water yoga. Just like the name suggests, water yoga is yoga that’s done on the water.
Also known as pool yoga, water yoga allows you to perform many yoga movements much more gently because the water helps to support your body weight. It a great option for chair yoga for seniors.
Of course, the water does cause limitations to some yoga stances since you can’t keep your head underwater for very long. This is why water yoga is based mainly on standing poses. But on the other hand, you don’t need a yoga mat!
Yoga has been proven to be great for health from both a physical and mental perspective. The poses in yoga improve your mobility, strength, balance, and coordination while the calm environment helps your mind to relax. Pool yoga offers all these benefits as well.
Check out this water yoga video by POPSUGAR Fitness to get a better idea of water yoga (YouTube embed, content not created or owned by ElderStrength.com):
Getting started: Equipment
One of the great things about swimming exercises is that it doesn’t require much to get started. At the bare minimum, you simply need a place to swim, like a swimming pool, a pond, or a lake, and a swimsuit.
Most public swimming pools offer classes for swimming aerobics and other water-based group activities. They usually also have pool noodles, so you don’t necessarily need to get your own.
The bare minimum you need for swimming and water exercises is a swimming suit. There are many options but keep in mind that some public swimming pools don’t allow swimming trunks due to hygiene reasons.
If you don’t like your hair getting wet or you find that the chlorine in the pool has a negative effect on your hearing, you should consider using a swimming cap.
Swimming caps are also required in some public swimming pools due to hygiene reasons.
If you are using your own pool and want to do pool noodle exercises, you will need to get your own pool noodles or noodles. They come in different sizes and buoyancies.
A good option for a pool noodle are aquatic exercise dumbells. Just like pool noodles, they can be used for added resistance underwater.
If you have sensitive eyes, the chlorine and other chemicals in swimming pools can irritate your eyes. Or maybe you just don’t like getting in your eyes.
Whatever the reason, a pair of swimming goggles helps keep your eyes free of water. They are also great if you like to dive and want to see in front of you.
Some people have a really hard time keeping water out of their noses and nostrils. The chemicals in swimming pool water can really irritate your sinuses and it’s a very uncomfortable feeling to have water in your nose.
This is where a nose clip or nose plugs can help. A nose clip simply compresses your nostrils shut and the plugs plug the nostrils to keep water out.
I hope you found these tips for water exercises for seniors useful. If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below and I will get back to you.
Water offers a great environment for performing low-impact cardio for seniors and there are a lot of activities to choose from.
If you have movement disabilities or chronic pain that prevents you from exercising, water-based exercise might just be the thing for you.
Just keep an open mind and do your best. Even if you are not comfortable swimming, you can do water exercises in shallow pools where you can stand with your head above the surface.
The water will help both support your body weight and to offer resistance that makes the exercise more effective.
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That’s it for today, see you next time!