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Health & Exercise Forum

Make Your Pool a Health Spa: Have Fun and Get in Shape

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Jun 29, 2009

Dr. Paul MackareyEach summer in Northeastern Pennsylvania people open their pools for fun in the sun. However, this summer I urge you to look at your pleasure puddle in different light…a health spa! It may very well be the exercise of choice for many people.

Tara Tulaney, recently suffered a knee injury while pole vaulting at Abington Heights High School. She has discovered the benefits of moving her leg in the warm water of her home pool following her knee surgery. Also, long distance runners who often look for cross training methods without joint compression and arthritis sufferers who are often limited in exercise choices by joint pain from compressive forces when bearing weight, can enjoy the buoyancy effects of  water. These are good examples of the benefits or water exercise…aerobic and resistive exercise without joint compression.

Exercise and Arthritis

Most doctors recommend some form of exercise with arthritis. Pain and fatigue are the most limiting factors for the person with arthritis. Pool exercise may be the answer. With proper technique, adequate rest periods, appropriate resistance and repetitions, water exercise can be very effective.


The following are some of the benefits of water exercise:

  • Decreased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
  • Improved Endurance
  • Improved Strength – with resistance of water to exercise muscles
  • Improved Flexibility and Range of Motion – with less pain
  • Improved Function in Daily Activities
  • Maintain Mobility
  • Improved Balance
  • Slow Down Osteoporosis
  • Weight Control – which leads to less stress on joints
  • Improved Mood and Attitude – release of endorphins and serotonin
  • Improved Circulation – especially in warm water
  • Decreased Muscle Spasm and Tension – especially in warm water
  • Decreased Stress on Joints – Buoyancy effect of water

Getting Started

  • Medical Clearance – see your family physician for clearance especially if you have a cardiac history or joint replacements. Do not use pool if you have surgical sutures or an open wound.
  • Warm Pool - 83-88 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Water Walking Exercise– begin in shallow end
  • Water Running Exercise– with buoyancy vest in deep end
  • Water Aerobics Exercise– using arms and legs as in regular aerobic exercise but in the water
  • Strength & Flexibility Exercise – just as on land but in water

1. Start Slowly – Don’t Overdo it

  • 5-10 minutes and repetitions first time and add 2-3 minutes/repetitions each week
  • Long Term Goal: 20 – 40 minutes per session, 3-4 times per week

2. Submerge the body part that you want to exercise into the water and move it slowly

3. Complete The Range of Motion: Initially 5 times, then 10-15-20-30 times

4. Assess: Determine if you have pain 3-4 hours after you exercise or into the next day. If so you overdid it and make adjustments next time by decreasing repetitions, speed, amount and intensity of exercise.

5. Warm-Up: Make sure you warm up slowly before the exercise with slow and easy movements.

6. Advance Slowly: Add webbed gloves, weighted boots, and buoyant barbells to increase the resistance.

7. Exercises – standing in shallow end of pool

  • Heel Raises – push toes down and heel up
  • Toe Raises – lift toes up and heel down
  • Leg Kicks – extend leg up and down
  • Hip Hike – raise knee up 4-6 inches and down
  • Leg Squeeze – squeeze knees together and apart
  • Leg Curl – bend knee
  • Torso Twist – slowly turn arms/torso to right, then to left
  • Shoulder Forward and Backward – like paddling a boat
  • Shoulder Out and In – like a bird flying
  • Bend Elbow Up and Down

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.