Exercise performed in water does not only refer to swimming lengths using the four traditional strokes. Various forms of exercise and therapy techniques can be performed in water for injury rehabilitation, chronic disease management or the improvement of cardiovascular fitness.
Water provides resistance without putting stress on the joints. Individuals who have experienced an acute orthopaedic injury, such as a torn ligament or strained muscle, need to strengthen the surrounding muscles to support the joint, without putting too much stress on the joint. Due to buoyancy, this is possible in water. The water supports the body, while providing resistance to movement which can be controlled by the individual – the faster you move a limb through the water, the greater the resistance will be. This individual, who is likely to be apprehensive to exercise after the injury, feels in control of the resistance and thus more comfortable with performing the exercise. Water also assists movement, thus contributing to greater joint mobility, which is important following injury. The hydrostatic pressure created by the water assists in reducing swelling around the injured area and promoting increased circulation, thus assisting in the healing process.
Aqua therapy is particularly effective in individuals with arthritis, as the reduced impact on the joints means less inflammation of the joints and therefore less pain. These individuals are thus able to perform a greater range of exercises without suffering pain or causing further degeneration in the joints.
Individuals who have chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis, benefit from the relaxation associated with being in the water. Fluid movements are more easily performed in water. The risk of injury due to falls is eliminated, although balance is constantly challenged due to the water constantly moving around the individual. Often, in these cases and with acute back injuries, the therapist will manually move an individual through the water, while s/he is completely relaxed, using flotation devices to assist the therapist. In this way, range of motion of the spine and other areas is improved while the individual is completely relaxed.
In more agile people, water can be used to improve cardiovascular fitness and increase muscle strength. Here, individuals actively perform exercise in the water. Additional resistance can be added using various pieces of aquatic equipment, such as pool noodles and special weights. Aerobics is performed in the water, where individuals feel safe and the risk of injury is reduced. Water aerobics can be very intense; therefore individuals with cardiovascular disease or similar risks must be cleared by the doctor before starting exercise.
Traditional swimming strokes are also hugely beneficial. Again, the water provides resistance, thereby increasing muscular strength and endurance. Heart rate increases with the intensity, contributing to improved cardiovascular fitness.
The temperature of the water needs to be carefully monitored. The water must be warmer when doing manual therapy in which the individual is completely relaxed. If the water is too cold, the individual will be unable to relax. Cooler temperatures are appropriate when doing water aerobics or traditional swimming strokes.
An aquatic exercise programme is hugely beneficial for those individuals who cannot perform land-based exercises and the same benefits are achieved. There is reduced stress on the body, often making the exercises more enjoyable and more appropriate for those who struggle with impact exercises.
So, if you think you have an excuse not to exercise, think again! There is always some form of exercise that can be adapted to suit your specific needs.