Supplement Feature - February 2012
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Dive in for Healthier Bodies & Minds

Wellness Programming for Aquatic Facilities

By Julie Knudson

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists a number of health benefits related to swimming and other water-based activities, including improved joint function and reduced discomfort for arthritis sufferers, anxiety relief for fibromyalgia patients, and better bone health in post-menopausal women.

Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo., said that no matter your age, exercise and activity in the water is ideal, "because the risks of a lot of the bad things associated with exercise go down pretty dramatically." He cited reduced risks for joint stress, slip-and-fall accidents, twisted ankles and broken bones. Even people with limited physical mobility or stamina often benefit from aquatic activities.

"What's particularly good about water," Lachocki said, "is that the compression water has on the body causes cardiac and respiratory exercise, even if the person isn't moving."

Linda Quan, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a physician in Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital, believes the health benefits of swimming and other aquatic activities extend beyond the physical realm. "I think we traditionally think of health benefits in terms of exercise," she said, "and certainly there's increased interest in exercise for cardiovascular health, diabetes control, weight control, obesity control and prevention, and all of that. But I think in addition to exercise, there's the health benefit of learning water safety."

Quan said aquatic activities play an important role in improving social health and well-being—everything from reducing drowning rates through the teaching of water safety to giving people a chance to be included in peer group activities and "integration into the local lifestyle," thereby minimizing social and physical isolation.

Unfortunately, aquatic facilities trying to market those messages of physical and emotional wellness may be hindered by one "fabulous strategic blunder," Lachocki said. He believes that people know to contact a doctor when facing concerns such as joint pain or a potential heart attack, but rarely do they link participation in aquatic activities to the prevention of those same health issues. "A paradigm of thought is that the pool's a recreational facility, but in reality the value that an aquatic facility provides to society is … more years of being able to care for yourself." The positioning of pools and aquatic centers as places of play—rather than places of health—leaves them highly vulnerable in today's struggling economy, he added. The message of health "has been misrepresented, and as a result we're less valuable."

Aquatic Programming Basics

Focused on offering residents a place to both relax and exercise, the Christiansburg Aquatic Center in Christiansburg, Va., opened just a year and a half ago and has already developed a range of robust programming around their leisure, warm water therapy and competition pools. "We have senior aerobics and we have specialty classes such as Ai Chi," said Allison Zuchowski, Christianburg's aquatic services manager.

In addition to providing fitness sessions for various age groups and ability levels, she said, "We also have some disabled groups that come in and utilize the warm water pool."

One area Zuchowski said the Christiansburg team is working to strengthen is programming for elementary school kids in the area. "We have offered to go into the schools and combine [swimming] along with physical education to meet the standards of learning, so we're doing the instructional swim program along with a water safety component."