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When choosing an aerobics class, ask questions and choose one that matches your ability level.
It might sound stereotypical to recommend water aerobics or water-based exercises for seniors -- but there's a very good reason for it. Water exercise reduces the load on the joints and muscles, making workouts more comfortable for people with chronic aches and pain. If you're just starting out with water-based fitness, it's worth your time to attend at least a few classes with a qualified instructor. Beginner classes typically start with balance and range-of-motion exercises and then progress to aerobic and strength-training exercises.
Before You Dive In
Before you begin water aerobics, it's key to take some health and safety measures. As with all forms of exercise for seniors, it's important to first get your doctor's OK to perform water-based exercise. Water-based exercise tends to be among the safest forms of exercise for those with mobility issues or chronic pain, but it's still worth talking to your doctor about any concerns you have. Your doctor might also give you a list of acceptable and non-acceptable movements for you. When you're ready to start, consider purchasing a pair of water shoes with decent tread to help you prevent slips and falls while on the pool deck. Always use extreme caution when you're getting in and out of the pool and don't go into water above chest-height unless you're confident in your swimming abilities.
A Focus on Range of Motion
In a class designed for beginners, expect to spend a lot of time focusing on range-of-motion exercises, designed to help you move your limbs, head and trunk more easily. For example, you might perform arm circles and shoulder rolls to increase the range of motion in your neck and shoulders. You might also spend time holding onto the side of the pool as you raise each leg into a stretch. Simple exercises such as these can also help improve your balance -- something that is of particular concern for many seniors. During these beginner classes, your instructor might also focus on deep breathing techniques and some gentle stretching.
Adding Aerobic Activity
As you progress to an intermediate class, you'll probably still perform range-of-motion and stretching exercises. In addition, your instructor will likely begin to incorporate aerobic exercises, or those exercises that get your heart beating faster and work to improve your cardiovascular health. Your instructor might have you walk through the water from one side of the shallow end of the pool to the other, "jog" in place or tread water to elevate your heart rate.
Getting Stronger, Improving Cardiovascular Health
Water-based exercise forces your muscles to work harder since water naturally creates more resistance. In an advanced water aerobics class, that resistance is utilized even further. When you attend an advanced class, expect to perform some resistance-training exercises on top of the stretching, balance, range-of-motion and cardio training you've done in more elementary classes. Resistance training is not just for the young and fit; it's recommended as part of a regular exercise program for people of all ages. You might hold a pair of aqua dumbbells and perform biceps curls or shoulder raises to tone your arms and shoulders or you might tie a noodle around a single leg and kick that leg forward and backward to strengthen the muscles of your legs. You might also use a kickboard to isolate the muscles of your legs while you swim or to sweep the board from one side of your body to another to strengthen the muscles of your core.