The Many Benefits Of Aquatic Exercise For The Young And Elderly

As summer arrives, millions of individuals take to the water for recreation and relaxation.

Wisconsin is blessed with outdoor natural beauty with hundreds of lakes, rivers, and parks drawing tourists from throughout the world.

Many towns and hotels also offer both indoor and outdoor pool facilities.  Water certainly is necessary for life and often contributes quality to our lives.  One way it benefits  is through water exercise.

Aquatics Therapy

In spite of extensive research showing broad benefits of using aquatics therapy for acute and chronic injuries, it remains underutilized as a treatment modality (Becker B, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehab, 2009).

Water therapy can benefit individuals with musculoskeletal and neurological disorders.  For many with restrictive pain, it allows improved exercise potential.

With the aging process, regular exercise becomes increasingly important.  A Meta-Analysis Study in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (Heyn, Patricia, 2004) showed exercise training resulted in improved health related physical fitness and cognitive function for individuals  even for those with dementia.

Ancient Healing Secret

Water therapy has been recognized for healing potential for hundreds of years.   The profession of Physical Therapy initially evolved largely due to the polio epidemic; aquatic therapy was often the treatment of choice.

It seems the unique properties of water foster significant exercise benefits to both the mind and body.

One of these water properties is hydrostatic pressure, which reduces edema with immersion.

Research has shown the effects of water immersion have significantly improved dependent edema and subjective pain symptoms in patients with varicose veins (Ernst, S, 1991).

Buoyancy is a second aquatic property which significantly unloads immersed joints; approximately 50% of body weight is unloaded when an individual is in water up to their navel often eliminating joint pain with exercise.

The viscosity involved with aquatic exercise is yet another property which is conducive to good rehab.  As an individual pushes harder against water, viscous resistance increases allowing an individual to increase or decrease resistance with exercise, as tolerated.

For older adults with arthritis, aquatic exercise has been shown to reduce disability, improve functional fitness and improve strength (Suomi R, Ach Phys Med Rehabil 2003). Many towns and cities have YMCA community based pool programs available.  Often local hotels also offer pool memberships at very reasonable rates.


With all the great benefits and advantages of pool exercise and therapy, one may ask why is it so often underutilized?

As a doctor of physical therapy who has treated hundreds of patients in the water, the biggest barrier I have found clinically is vanity.  A typical response I get from patients I know would benefit is, “Only God sees me in as swimsuit!”

Often this mindset can be diffused with proper education and by having individual s watch others (with similar challenges) exercise and share the benefits they have received.

Increased socialization can be another perk of water exercise. It can be great fun and a wonderful way to make new friends.  For many with limited tolerance for land-based exercises due to chronic pain, the water environment can provide hope, encouragement and enjoyment for better health and function.

Often a physical therapist who is skilled with aquatic therapy can be a great asset in helping reduce fears and optimizing functional outcomes with an individualized graded exercise program.

Water Therapy for Improved Quality of Life

In summary, water exercise and therapy has a tremendous amount to offer both the young and old.  It just may be the ticket you need to improve your quality of life.

This summer consider getting more active by making some waves!

About Dr. L. Voigt Smith, PT DPT CredMDT

Dr. Smith is a state licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the Backsmith Advanced Physical Therapy clinic in Weston, Wisconsin, and inventor of the Backsmith Selective Stabilization Support. Backsmith Advanced Physical Therapy is the only clinic in the Wausau/Weston area with an A+ rating with the BBB. As a member of the Free Market Medical Association, Dr. Smith prides himself on advanced, innovative, and cost-saving physical therapy care. He has been exceptionally effective with many outlier chronic pain patients. Dr. Smith is often able to save patients significant time and money, while restoring mobility and reducing chronic pain. Dr. Smith can be reached at the Backsmith Advanced Physical Therapy Clinic in Weston, WI (by appointment) or at (715) 298-5888.