Feature Article - November 2014
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Programming: Aquatics

Healing Waters
The Power of Aquatic Programs

By Rick Dandes

Aquatic exercise programs run by recreational facilities around the nation are rapidly gaining in popularity, and with good reason. Exercise enthusiasts, athletes, the elderly and the physically challenged are discovering aquatic exercise programs that suit their fitness needs and desires. Meanwhile, municipalities are also learning that by offering such programs, they can draw in greater numbers of customers who might never have used the pool before. And increased attendance can lead to financial stability, always a challenge in these post-recessionary, tight-budgeted times.

The notion of water acting as a healing agent is nothing new and has been traced back to ancient civilizations in India, Egypt and China. The ancient Greek, Hebrew, Roman, Christian and Islamic cultures also used water for both physical and spiritual healing. In the United States, aquatic therapy was pioneered in the 1920s by Dr. Charles Lowman, an orthopedic surgeon. Lowman used fresh water to treat paralysis and other spastic conditions and saline water to treat infectious diseases.

The notion of water acting as a healing agent is nothing new and has been traced back to ancient civilizations in India, Egypt and China.

In recent years there has been considerable research examining the benefits of aquatic programs, with pretty much the same results: Swimming—ranked as the fourth most popular sports-based activity in the nation—can reduce the incidence of chronic illnesses with just two and a half hours a week, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And water aerobics, properly supervised by certified instructors, is easy on the joints and can even increase muscle strength and endurance due to the water's built-in resistance. This form of exercise is preferred by many as opposed to more traditional forms of fitness, like going to a gym, because the weight in the water doesn't pull the person down the same way a regular workout would.

"Someone can exercise longer in water than on land without the extra effort or the joint and muscle pain that often accompanies a regular exercise routine because of its low impact," said Dr. Eadric Bressel, professor and clinical research scientist in the Sports Medicine program at Utah State University, Logan, Utah.

Aquatics, he continued, is one of those things that "really is an ideal form of exercise." But it is highly underutilized. It's a little bit sexier doing something on land with a younger population. But the benefits of aquatics programs are evident for all demographic groups: everything from helping those recovering heart failure and those recovering from strokes, to lowering blood pressure. Athletes recovering from injuries are now using aquatic programs to recover faster. And even younger, overweight people are being helped, because there is less stress on their hip and knee joints in the water. Water lends itself to a well-balanced workout that improves all major components of physical fitness—aerobic training, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition.

"If you start with a question, 'Who benefits from being in a pool?'" added John Caden, a consultant representing the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP), "I would reply with a simple 'Who doesn't?'"

Anyone can benefit from being in a pool and more so, people with disabilities, he explained. "If you have paraplegics who spend the day sitting in a wheelchair, in a confined space, getting them into a pool and just letting them stretch out is a feeling of freedom that you or I can't understand. There are many disabilities that you don't even think about. A swimming pool is probably the best thing in the world for seniors, many of whom are inactive because they are afraid of falling down and breaking a hip. The nice thing about being in the pool is you don't have to be a lap swimmer, you can take part in a water aerobics program or simply walk back and forth across the pool. It's wonderful exercise. It's easy on your body and there is no fear of falling down."