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Water Aerobics -- Good For Seniors

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Dear Dr. Levister: Last week we celebrated our 50th anniversary. We both have moderate arthritis and see our doctor regularly. Our children gave us a year pass for water aerobics at the YMCA. They say this exercise is good for aching muscles and joints. Is it safe for seniors and non-swimmers?
Burt and Wilma

Dear Burt and Wilma: If you are in generally good health and get regular medical checkups JUMP IN! Swimming is not the only form of exercise drawing people into the water these hot summer days. Water aerobics offer a long list of benefits for seniors, people recovering from hip or leg injury, pregnant or obese people.

Aquatic exercise is fun and can provide excellent fitness benefits without putting stress on joints and muscles. The water’s cushioning, supportive effect and buoyancy is ideal for low impact exercise in that it effectively reduces a person’s weight by about 90 percent. For example when a 150-pound man is submerged up to his neck in water, his lower limbs have to support only 15 pounds -- which means that ligaments and joints receive substantially less stress during a workout.

Most studies show that as an aerobic activity, running in water is on par with running on land, or slightly less strenuous. (Walking in water, however, is more demanding than regular walking because of water resistance).

The most basic type of water aerobics is jogging back and forth across the pool in chest or waist deep water, or running in place while treading water at the deep end. All you do is exaggerate the normal running movements by lifting your knees high and pumping your arms back and forth.

For swimmers, less conventional water aerobics can add variety to their time in the pool. Even for non-swimmers, water workouts can provide a good fitness routine. You can use a flotation vest to keep you upright as you run in deep water. By wearing a vest, you can concentrate on moving your limbs through their full range of motion at a constant speed.

Devices such as fins, paddles and inflatable mitts can help strengthen your upper body or legs by enlarging the surface area you push or pull through the water. These devices are often made available during group workouts such as those at the YMCA. They can also be purchased at swim shops, sporting good stores and many department stores.

When exercising in water, make sure its temperature is comfortable, usually eighty-two to eighty-six degrees Fahrenheit. If it's too hot, you could become weak or even pass out; if too cool, it may cause pain in stiff or arthritic joints. If you have diabetes you need to be extra careful. Discuss water aerobics with your personal physician before you start.

Dr. Levister welcomes reader mail concerning their body but regrets that he is not able to answer individual letters. Your letters will be incorporated into the column as space permits. You may direct your letters to Dr. Levister in care of Black Voice News, P.O. Box 1581, Riverside, CA 92502. For more information about your Black health visit African American Health Network at www.aahn.com.

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