Falls are the main reason for injuries in older adults and rank as the second largest reason for unintentional fatal injuries. Aquatic exercise and therapy can be key to combating these risks. It allows seniors to work on balance and improve bone density through weight resistance in an environment that reduces the risk of falling.
Whether you enroll in an aqua-aerobics class, participate in a medically prescribed aqua-therapy session, or just work with them to create water fun, the benefits of working out in the water are myriad. Aqua therapy can help with:
- Neurological or balance deficits
- Circulatory issues
- Poor self-esteem
- Joint replacement
- Orthopedic injuries
Water creates resistance to help build muscle mass which, in turn, increases bone density and reduces the incidence of broken bones. Care should be taken when entering or leaving the pool or spa, or course; investing in a sturdy, non-slip pair of water shoes is essential.
It helps if you choose a warm water environment. While it doesn’t need to be bathwater warm, it reduces shock and stress to the system to choose a pool or spa that heats its water to make it easier to enter and less intensive to warm up the muscles.
Before starting any exercise program, always talk with your physician to determine if there are any risks or limitations. For example, deeper water can cause undue stress on the cardiovascular system. If you or your loved one have high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, or breathing disorders, your doctor may limit you to exercises done in water that’s about waist deep. Other tips for starting a water program include:
- Find a heated pool or spa, which will reduce shock and stress to the system
- Invest in a good pair of water shoes
- A flotation vest can be used if you are nervous about the water
- Start slowly with five minutes of exercise and gradually increase to 30 minutes a day
- Consider enrolling in a class to add a social component
- As with any exercise program, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
If you expect to be needing rehabilitation after a surgery, remember that aquatic therapy is recognized by all insurance as a standard physical therapy modality and is most likely a covered service. If you are not looking for aquatic rehab but want to start a water-based exercise program, you don’t need a complex routine. Here are some exercises to get you started:
Water walking: This is a great way to work and strengthen the muscles specifically used when walking. Wade in to the water about waist deep then simply walk around as you would out of the water; swing your arms, keep your back straight, and try to walk normally (heel to toe). For added intensity, walk backwards or increase the speed. Jogging in place works well, too.
Sidestepping: Closely related to water walking, sidestepping will help create lateral stability for older adults. Hold the wall and take sideways steps with your toes facing the wall. You might favor going in the direction of your dominant or stronger leg, but be sure to go in the opposite direction too.
Arm Circles: Stand near a wall submerged to their shoulders, with one foot in front of the other for balance. Raise your arms to the side and make circle motions under the water. Aim for fifteen on each side, then reverse the direction of the circle.
Leg Swings: Standing in waist-deep water, hold the edge of the pool with one hand to your side and swing your outside leg forward paralleling the wall for five or more seconds and then backwards for the same amount of time. Turn 180 degrees and take the pool with the other hand so the opposite leg is away from the wall. The goal would be 10 to 15 reps per leg.
Aqua aerobics classes can be a great way for seniors to socialize, and pools are one of the safer places for activities during the pandemic. Check with your local YMCA or YWCA, community pool, or senior center for information about available classes.
Looking for a little extra help around the house? Concerned that your loved one is spending too much time along? Call us at Assisting Hands Home Care serving Columbus, OH and we’ll schedule a complimentary assessment.
Sources: ClearCare, National Institutes of Health, American Physical Therapy Association, Alternatives for Seniors, Aging Care, American Senior Communities