The Benefits of Water Aerobics

As a former competitive swimmer who also played water polo and competed in aquathlons, it’s fair to say I’m pretty experienced when it comes to water activities.

But as far as water aerobics goes, I like many, had the misconception that it was an easy, relaxing activity primarily for older adults. And boy, was I proven wrong. Instead, I was incredibly humbled when I recently took my first class.

“It’ll be a slow, low-intensity way to start my day,” I thought to myself. Safe to say, it wasn’t easy nor slow by any means—rather quite the opposite.

To start was a simple walk around the shallow end, and, before I knew it, my heart was already racing. By the end of the 45 minutes, I was spent.

What is water aerobics?

Water aerobics is a mix of a cardio and strength-training workout all done inside a pool (primarily in the shallow end where you can stand). While you do work up a sweat during the session, it’s considered a low-impact workout.

“Water aerobics is gentle on the joints, which makes it suitable for individuals with arthritis, joint pain, or other mobility issues,” says Carlos Urrutigoity, water fitness instructor and health and wellbeing circle leader at BodyHoliday, St. Lucia. “The buoyancy of water allows for a wider range of motion, promoting flexibility and improved joint function.”

I myself experienced this firsthand as someone with ongoing hip pain. Many traditional land exercises flare up my hips and limit my motion. However, while I was in the water, I could do the movements with ease and without discomfort.

“Water fitness can be individualized to everyone.” —Landon Uetz, PT, DPT

What are the benefits of water aerobics?

There are many benefits of water fitness. Read on to learn more.

1. It improves muscle strength and cardiovascular health

A small May 2018 study in PLOS One found that doing water aerobics twice a week for 12 weeks showed improvements in explosive upper- and lower-body strength, reduced body fat, lower systolic blood pressure (the top number, which measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats), and lower triglycerides (a type of fat that circulates in your blood).

2. It’s good for people of all training levels and abilities

“Water fitness can be individualized to everyone,” says physical therapist Landon Uetz, PT, DPT. “The faster you move, the more resistance you experience.”

3. It works multiple muscle groups at once

“It’s especially effective for targeting core muscles, as the abdominal and back muscles are constantly engaged to maintain balance and stability in the water,” Urrutigoity says.

Why is water aerobics so challenging compared land workouts?

One of the biggest reasons water aerobics is deceivingly hard is because of water resistance.

“The resistance of water is about 12 to 14 times greater than air,” Urrutigoity says. “Therefore, movements become more challenging, which enhances muscular strength and endurance, compared to similar exercises on land.”

And while it may be a tougher workout than expected, the challenge allows you to build lean muscle mass without the risk of injuries you may face when on land. Dr. Uetz says the buoyancy of water also plays a role.

“The buoyancy is what reduces the joint requirements and supports the weight of the body,” he says. “It takes gravity out of the equation that comes into play with land activity.”

Water aerobics was truly one of the most challenging, yet fun, workouts I’ve done in a long time. I was slipping and sliding, could barely balance, and probably looked like a giraffe trying to walk for the first time. Just note that it may take some time to get your footing (literally), and you may be left very humbled. But as long as you’re having fun and keeping at it, that’s all that matters.

Try this sample water aerobics workout

Want to give water aerobics a go? Urrutigoity recommends this workout the next time you’re in the pool.

Warm-up (5 minutes)

  1. Jog in place: Start with a light jog in the water to increase your heart rate and warm up your muscles.
  2. Arm circles: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and circle your arms forward and then backward to warm up your shoulder joints.
  3. Leg swings: Swing one leg forward and backward, then side to side. Switch legs and repeat.
  4. Torso twists: Stand with feet hip-width apart and twist your torso side to side, engaging the core muscles.

Cardiovascular exercise (30 minutes)

  1. Jumping jacks: Perform jumping jacks in the water to increase your heart rate and work on cardiovascular fitness.
  2. Cross-country skiing: Simulate a cross-country skiing motion by moving your arms and legs alternately
  3. High knees: Lift your knees toward your chest, alternating legs quickly. This helps to engage your core and lower body.
  4. Torso twists: Stand with feet hip-width apart and twist your torso side to side, engaging the core muscles.
  5. Hydro push: With foam dumbbells, resistance gloves, or no fitness equipment at all, submerge your body to upper- chest level and use the water resistance to push your arms away from your body in a press-up movement. Engage your triceps (backs of your upper arms), deltoids (shoulders), and pectoralis (chest) muscles as you do this.

Cooldown (5 minutes)

  1. Slow walking: Bring the intensity down with a slow walk in the water to gradually lower your heart rate.
  2. Stretching: Perform gentle stretches for your arms, legs, and torso. Focus on lengthening your muscles and improving flexibility.
  3. Deep breathing: Finish with deep breathing exercises to help relax and center yourself.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. Pereira Neiva H, Brandão Faíl L, Izquierdo M, Marques MC, Marinho DA. The effect of 12 weeks of water-aerobics on health status and physical fitness: An ecological approach. PLoS One. 2018 May 31;13(5):e0198319. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198319. PMID: 29851998; PMCID: PMC5978883.




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