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Water Workout Offers Benefits For Fibromyalgia and More

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Less strain felt and results are not compromised

By Kathleen O’Dell
Gannett News Service

Has cold weather put your outdoor fitness program on ice?

Or have you hit a plateau with your current workout? A water-fitness class — from simple walking to aerobics to kickboxing — could be what you need to take your regimen indoors, or rev up your existing workout.

Benefits of water
Buoyancy takes the weight off of our joints, so people with flexibility problems can move in ways they usually can’t. Those with limited movement due to arthritis, fibromyalgia or obesity can get a cardiovascular workout without the risk of jarring joints or falling.
The hydrostatic pressure of water reduces swelling and inflammation in joints, making workouts easier and less painful.

Water resistance provides more bang for your buck. A 30-minute walk on land burns an average of 135 calories. A 30-minute walk in chest-high water burns an average of 264 calories, says Allison Worley, aquatics coordinator at CoxHealth system’s Meyer Center in Springfield, Mo. Exercisers get 12 times the resistance just walking through the water, experts say. They can add resistance by wearing webbed gloves.

“It creates more drag on the hands, and the more water you move, or the more force against the water, the more calories you’re burning,” says Lisa Gregory, a fitness instructor. Use small foam weights and boost resistance by about 40 percent; larger weights add up to 80 percent more resistance, she said.

“Water is a great equalizer for people,” says Jeneffer Bell, a water instructor. “If you have any kind of a physical challenge, the water will help that because it displaces 85 percent of your weight. So it’s a lot easier for people because they don’t have to support their whole weight.”

The ease of a water workout is deceiving, Bell says. Water gives a more thorough routine — while targeting certain muscles, other muscles are constantly working to help a person stay balanced against the turbulence of the pool.

“I’ve gone a whole class and people said, ‘You forgot to do abs.’ I didn’t stop to do an ab workout, but the abs and back were working the whole hour,” Gregory says.

One study of people who did general water aerobics showed a significant improvement in abdominal muscle strength even though they hadn’t worked specifically on the muscles, she says.

A 1993 study showed that rhythmic water exercises are comparable to land-based programs in decreasing body fat.

The body doesn’t feel muscle fatigue in the water as it does during a floor workout. Water has a cooling, refreshing effect — it washes away the sweat and draws heat from the body.

As with any exercise regimen, water fitness shows best results if practiced three days a week.

Aquatic asanas
One of the fastest-growing water-fitness programs nationwide is water yoga. Instructor Bell designed a workout that incorporates many of the upright yoga positions, or asanas, modified for use in chest-high water. The main benefits: flexibility and balance.

Class member Jan Boutelle had tried floor yoga in the past and gave it up. “I felt clumsy,” she says. Since adding water yoga to her water aerobics workout last year, she’s seen big changes. Besides losing six pounds, Boutelle says, she has better range of motion in her joints. It’s easier to bend over and tie her shoes, and for the first time in years she can sleep with her arms raised or crossed behind her head. It’s made her other workouts easier, too, she says.
People with chronic lower back pain may shy away from working their backs for fear of more soreness, Bell says.

Water, experts say, offers a great atmosphere in which to work the abdominal muscles and back muscles — essential for back support. Water buoyancy relieves gravitational pressure and pain on the back, while water turbulence forces you to use core muscles to stay balanced.

From a trainer’s point of view, water is the perfect workout setting for both beginners and veterans. Training in water meets the five components of physical fitness: cardiovascular and muscle endurance, muscular strength, flexibility and body composition — the ratio of lean to nonlean tissue.

Japanese researchers in a 1994 study concluded that consistently participating in water exercise may be an important avenue for preventing bone loss.

Certified athletic trainer Bill Ingemi adds a cautionary note: Land gravity causes bones to respond, so a land workout is best for people who want to promote bone density and strength — if they can tolerate gravity.

“(Gravity is) one of the primary forces the body has to resist, and that enhances dry-land activities,” says Ingemi. But bones will also respond to muscle contractions during water exercise, he says. “When muscle pulls on bone to move the bone, the bone gets stressed from the muscle contraction, and that’s great.”

Source: Copyright ©2004 The Marion Star. Online at

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