As we age, our muscle tone decreases as much as three to five percent a decade after 30, according to Harvard Health Publishing. But regular exercise is one way to prevent muscle loss and maintain joint strength. Plus, regular exercise is a great way to socialize and enjoy some mental stimulation.
But high-impact workouts (sessions that involve a lot of jumping) can be damaging to sensitive joints, like your hips and knees. That's where water aerobics come in! Water workouts are low-impact and high-resistance, helping you build strength without taxing your joints — ideal for adults over 50 (or any age).
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"Aquatic exercise has many benefits, including muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and balance," Julie See, director of education for the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA), says.
See has created hundreds of pool workout programs throughout her time as an aquatics educator, and she designed this pool workout specifically for people over 50 looking to feel all the benefits of aquatic fitness.
Warming up helps your body stay injury-free, preparing your muscles for the workout to come. Move through these few quick exercises several times before you start the workout. Wondering how long you should warm up? Generally, 5 to 10 minutes is a good length.
- Forward Pool Walk: Walk forward across the pool for one minute, rolling from the heel to the ball of the foot. Don't lock out your knee, but keep your core and glute muscles engaged. Make a breaststroke pattern with your arms at the water's surface.
- Backward Pool Walk: Walk backward across the pool for one minute, now rolling from the ball of the foot to the heel. Hold your arms just above the water in a "hugging" motion to engage your core.
- Side Step: Keep your torso straight in line with your hips. Start stepping to the right, holding your arms up in a T. Take several steps in this direction, then walk to the left.
Run through each move for the recommended number of repetitions, pausing for several breaths (or as long as needed) between exercises. Although you may not feel yourself sweating during this workout, you still need to hydrate. So, keep a bottle of water close by.
1. Jumping Jacks
- Keep your arms under the water, lifting them just to the water’s surface in a T shape.
- Pull your arms down behind your body.
- As your arms come to the surface, jump your legs apart several feet.
- As your arms come down behind you jump your legs back together, like a jumping jack.
2. Ankle Reach
- Stand with legs at hip-width distance and reach your right hand toward your left ankle.
- Push your hips to the right to feel a stretch down your right leg.
- Repeat on the opposite side, reaching you left hand to your right ankle, shifting your hips to the left.
- Repeat for 16 total reps, 8 on each side.
You can do this in shallower water, so your face doesn't go below the waterline, or in deeper water if you want to practice holding your breath.
3. Heel Reach
- Stand with your feet at hip-width distance and reach your right hand toward your left heel behind your body. Only reach back far enough to feel a stretch in your chest without arching your back.
- Return to standing.
- Switch sides, reaching your left hand to your right heel.
- Repeat for 16 total reps, 8 on each side.
4. Butt Kicks
- Stand tall, pulling your belly button to your spine.
- Balancing on your left leg, lift your right foot reaching your heel to your butt.
- Quickly alternate and balance on your right leg, reaching your left heel to your butt.
- Aim for quick turnover of your feet as you alternate butt kicks.
5. High Knees
- Stand tall and pull your belly button to your spine.
- Balance on your left leg and lift your right leg in front of you, bringing your knee to a 90-degree angle.
- As quickly as possible, switch sides, drawing your left knee up to 90 degrees.
- Alternate knees.
As you draw your knee up, avoid leaning back and only bring your knees up as far as you can while maintaining a flat back.
6. Tire Run
- Leading with your right foot, hop to the right.
- Follow with your left foot, allowing it to meet the right.
- Repeat by hopping back to the other side. Repeat for 8 hops, 4 in each direction.
7. Cross-Country Ski
- Stand tall.
- Using your core to keep your torso and body facing forward, swing your arms by your sides underwater.
- Keeping your body stable, complete 16 total swings, 8 on each arm.
8. Back Kicks
- Stand tall, with a very slight lean forward.
- Put your arms straight out in front of you and engage your core and upper-body muscles to hold your arms stable.
- Repeat the steps for butt kicks, alternating heel to butt.
- Repeat 8 times on each leg.
9. Front Kicks
- Stand tall, not leaning forward or backward.
- Kick your right leg forward, keeping it as straight as possible.
- At the same time, reach toward your right leg with your left arm.
- Repeat 8 reps with each leg.
- Stand with your legs close together and a slight bend in each knee.
- Hold your arms at 90-degree angles at your sides.
- Jump with both feet side-to-side while your arms move in opposition, as if you were downhill skiing. Feel the burn in your quads on this one.
- Repeat 8 times each direction.
11. Rocking Horse
- Stand in a split stance, with your right leg in front of your left and a slight bend in your right knee.
- Shift your weight forward onto the right leg as your left heel lifts slightly.
- Rock backward onto your left leg, lifting up your right leg as high as possible while keeping it underwater.
- You will need to keep your core and balancing skills active to nail this exercise.
- Repeat 8 times, then switch your split stance and complete 8 more repetitions.
12. White-Water Rafting
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Drop into a squat, using your quads and glutes to stabilize you.
- Hold your arms at 90-degrees at your sides, underwater.
- Quickly move your arms back and forth. Repeat eight times with each arm.
Skipping your cool-down routine can be tempting but this is another important part of your workout. Cooling down properly can help bring your heart rate down and prevent injury. Run through these moves several times.
- Face the pool wall with both hands on the wall.
- Step your right foot back and push your right heel down toward the pool bottom.
- Gradually lean forward from the back ankle to feel the stretch in the calf.
- Hold for a count of 20, release and repeat two more times. Switch sides.
- Face the pool wall.
- Raise your right foot onto the edge of the pool wall. Hold the wall for balance if needed.
- Slowly straighten your right leg without locking out at the knee.
- Gradually lean forward to feel a stretch along the back of your right leg.
- Hold for count of 20, release and repeat two more times. Switch sides.
- Hold the edge of the pool wall with your left hand for balance.
- Take hold of your right foot, bending your right knee.
- Press your hips forward and pull your right heel to your butt until you feel a stretch across the front of your right leg.
- Hold for 20 seconds, then switch sides.
- Find a comfortable stance and sink low into the water, so that your shoulders are submerged.
- Close your eyes and take several deep breaths, gently rolling your head from one shoulder to the other.