ABC Your Move: How water aerobics can help your health and fitness
By Marnie Vinall
Posted Thu 13 Oct 2022 at 8:52am
As the ABC launches the Your Move campaign, to help Australians explore their health and fitness journey, reporter Marnie Vinall hits the road to try some of the growing exercise trends around the country.
Every time I go for a swim at my local pool and water aerobics classes are on at the same time, I feel a tinge of envy as they bop up and down to ABBA tracks, while I do freestyle laps back and forth.
It seems like the much, much more fun option.
So, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a go, especially as I've now hit the age where my knees start to hurt when I run too much.
I reached out to Jennifer Schembri-Portelli, registered aqua exercise instructor and personal trainer, who has been teaching water aerobics classes for over 20 years.
She told me to come down to take a class at Sandhurst Club, where she was teaching that night and I enthusiastically accepted.
Before I came down, however, she gave me the run down of what the activity was all about.
She told me that the buoyancy of the water supports the body and decreases the stress placed on joints while you move, which can increase range of motion.
"For people who want to exercise on land, they are restricted by gravity and their knees and their joints, but when they're in the water, their ability is enhanced … we find that people who can exercise in a limited fashion on land, but they can increase their cardiovascular fitness more in the water," she said.
Schembri-Portelli also noted aqua fitness is good for all ages, as resistance can be increased by speed in the water to make exercises more challenging.
So basically — expect a workout.
I arrived early and got talking to some of the other participants. One woman had been going for over a year, another on and off for seven years and another for over 12 years. They all spoke highly of the classes, one woman telling me she can no longer jump on land but in the water she feels a lot freer.
When we got in the water, the soundtrack started and the warm-up began. And we're talking here a playlist of These Boots Are Made for Walkin' by Nancy Sinatra, Uptown Girl by Billy Joel, Knock on Wood by Amii Stewart and So What by Pink.
And look, I'm not going to lie about this. From the get-go, I had a huge dorky smile plastered to my face.
It was just incredibly fun – although, don't get me wrong, still an effective and at times challenging workout.
The exercises throughout the class included jogging and sprinting on the spot, kicks to the front and side of the body, dance moves including should shimmies and upper body exercises with handheld dumbbells used underwater.
The dumbbells, although extremely light, picked up resistance under water and were especially challenging to push from one side of my body to the other in time with the music.
At one point I exclaimed that I was starting to feel a bit puffed out.
"Think how the great grandmother would be feeling," one woman said beside me, gesturing to the woman on my left who beamed back at me.
After the class, I got in touch with Dr Sophie Heywood, physiotherapist and water aqua instructor, to find out a bit more about water fitness.
When I told her how much fun I and the others around me it appeared to have had in class, she didn't seem surprised.
"We know from the research that it's considered like an enabling environment. So it means if you've got pain or weakness, you can do more stuff in the pool," she said.
"And I think that's a real bonus for people … it puts people in the right headspace, they can succeed, it can be successful and fun and enjoyable and less uncomfortable.
"There's quite a lot of research that shows that for people with joint pain — so people with arthritis, or other musculoskeletal injuries — that being in the pool is useful for improving their fitness."
Dr Heywood said those fitness improvements also carry over to land exercises.
"It's not just enjoying it while you're doing it, it's also getting better with your balance or walking when you're out of the pool," she said.
Plus, she told me water exercises are often used in elite sports for rehabilitation and recovery and to support other forms of exercise, such as running or cycling.
"That offloading from buoyancy is really useful for recovery and also for rehab and exercise," she said.
"I think typically in the past, aquatic exercise has been seen as a soft option … that it's seen as like pretty easy and for old people, but actually, we know that a lot of young people really like exercising in the pool and really find it beneficial."
I, one for, found it beneficial. For the fitness, and the fun.
Next time mum's in town, I'm definitely taking her to a class.
What is water aerobics?
Water aerobics is a class most often held in the shallow end of the pool, with an instructor guiding participants through various movements that help with strength and fitness.
The resistance of the water not only helps build muscle and improve cardiovascular systems, but it is also kind on joints like knees and ankles as a low impact exercise.
Other forms of water aerobics includes aqua cycling, which uses an exercise bike in the water, water pole dancing, which — you guessed it — is pole dancing but in the water, and deep water aerobics, which is done at the other end of the pool and adds the extra challenge of treading water.
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You can try one of Jenny's classes at Sandhurst Club on Monday at 10:30am or Wednesday at 6:30pm.
She also offers a Hydro Functional Fitness class at 10:30am on Friday.