There are good reasons to consider cross-training in the pool. It offers a refreshing change of pace from land-based exercise. The buoyancy of the water offloads the joints which allow you to perform rebounding moves, plyometrics, and other sports-based activities without risk of injury, while at the same time improving skills. Sports enthusiasts, runners, Yoga practitioners, and other exercisers can all benefit from moving some of their workouts to the pool. There are many additional benefits as well. In this article, I will highlight some of these benefits as described by Dr. Bruce Becker, Director of the National Aquatics & Sports Medicine Institute, and other researchers.
Benefits for the Heart
Just getting into the pool lowers blood pressure for most people. Blood pressure decreases because immersion relaxes the blood vessels so that they can carry more blood while presenting less resistance to the heart, which is pumping that blood. Decreased blood pressure lingers for a while after you get out of the pool. With regular aquatic exercise, the vessels themselves become more pliant and supple. Since stiffening of the blood vessels is a primary factor that causes blood pressure to increase with age, keeping them pliant reduces the risk for hypertension.
The hydrostatic pressure of the water pushes blood out to the extremities, and in combination with more supple blood vessels, stroke volume and cardiac output increases. This means that the heart becomes more efficient, pumping more blood with each stroke. Blood flow to the muscles during water exercise can increase an amazing 250%. With this kind of blood flow, heart rate is lowered. Target heart rates while exercising in shallow water average about 7 beats per minute lower than the same intensity exercise on land. The exact number of beats per minute depends on many factors, including the fitness level of the individual.
An added benefit of increased cardiac output is that a greater blood volume is pushed through the kidneys, which in turn improves kidney function and increases urine output.
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Benefits for the Brain
The working muscles and kidneys are not the only beneficiaries of improved cardiac output. Blood flow to the brain increases progressively with immersion from zero depth to shoulder depth. The blood flow persists throughout the exercise period, delivering oxygen and nutrients which the brain uses to repair and regenerate brain and nerve cells. It is reasonable to assume that this would help slow the deterioration of age-related brain performance.
Benefits for the Bones
The prevailing opinion for years has been that weight-bearing and resistance exercise is required to improve bone density, and since the buoyancy of the water offloads the joints, water exercise is not a good option for anyone wishing to maintain or improve their bone density. However, that perception changed when water exercise was looked at as resistance exercise. Performing strength training exercises in water with maximal effort and without shortening the range of motion results in increased bone formation in postmenopausal women. Similar results were obtained in a study that looked at aquatic high-intensity interval training. The key for both is maximal effort and a full range of motion.
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Working out in the water has benefits for your heart, kidneys, brain, and bones, all while delivering a workout that is perceived by most people as fun. And there are no side effects! I hope you will consider doing some of your cross-training in the pool.
For more information on the research of this article go to Playcore.
For more information on water, exercise sees my blog at water fitness lesson on the blog and my books Water Fitness Progressions and Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography by Christine Alexander, available on Amazon.