Pool Exercises for Seniors

Older adult getting ready to exercise at the swimming pool.

Department of Parks and Recreation

Regular exercise sometimes does more damage than good in older adults that suffer from arthritis, strained ligaments, or other medical conditions. The added stress on the body causes aches and pains that often last for days. Stay in shape while preventing further injury by trying aquatic exercises. Water workouts put less stress on the joints while helping to relieve chronic arthritis pains. Learn about these pool exercises and discover how aquatic fitness can keep you feeling fit as you age.

Aquatic Exercises for the Entire Body

Basic Swimming:

There are several swimming strokes that provide exercise for your entire body. A few of the common strokes include:
• Butterfly: Swing both arms at the same time in a circular pattern up and above your head while keeping feet together and kicking them in an up-and-down motion.
• Breaststroke: One of the most popular swimming strokes, the breaststroke involves the arms meeting in front of your body and moving toward the sides, then coming back to meet in the front in a fluid motion. The legs bend at the knees and kick out to come together in a frog-like movement.
• Freestyle: Arms move in a windmill circular rotation and come up toward the ears while you turn your face to the side to breathe without stopping. For the freestyle, kick the legs in a chopping motion.
• Backstroke: Lie on your back in the water and, keeping your arms straight, swing one at a time in a windmill rotation backward toward your head. Use the same kick movement as the freestyle.

These water movements raise your heart rate, increase lung capacity, improve overall flexibility, and build muscle tone and strength. Swimming can burn as many as 500–650 calories per hour, making it a suitable replacement for your usual cardio workouts, such as walking and running.

Water Aerobic Classes:

Water aerobics increase heart rate and aid in weight loss or weight management. Offered at many local fitness centers, including YMCA locations, water aerobic classes blend exercise with social activities. Go with a group or use the classes to branch out and make new friends. Water aerobic classes usually last about an hour and involve standing in chest-deep water while using repetitious movements to strengthen every part of the body.

Walk through Water:

One of the more simple exercises you can do, walking back and forth through waist deep water is an easy yet effective aquatic workout for seniors. Swing your hands, palms flat, through the water in a forceful motion to increase resistance for your arms. This exercise builds muscle in the arms and legs while raising your heart rate. Make sure to keep your back straight and walk flat-footed to get the most out of the exercise.

Aquatic Exercises for the Legs

Leg swings:

Stand sideways by the edge of the pool with the water up to your lower back. Lift your outer leg and swing it out in the water to a comfortable distance. Hold the position for five to ten seconds. Return to the starting position and swing the same leg backward. Hold the pose for the same amount of time and return to the starting stance. Repeat ten to fifteen times, and then switch legs.

Leg Pushes:

Using a pool noodle, hold both ends and place the loop under your foot. Bend your leg at the knee and lift your leg until the thigh is parallel to the water surface. Push against the resistance that the noodle creates until your leg is straight. Slowly let your leg return to the 90-degree angle position with the knee bent. Repeat ten to fifteen times before switching legs.

Aquatic Exercises for the Arms

Arm Circles:

Get in the deeper end of the pool and stand at the side where the water reaches your neck. To ensure safety, do not stand too far off the wall. Stand in a lunging position with one leg slightly behind and the other in front of you. Raise your arms so that they make a 90-degree angle with your side, sitting just below the water level. With your arms straight out and palms face down, create a circular motion in a clockwise direction for ten to fifteen seconds. Then switch directions and move your arms counterclockwise. Repeat five to ten times.

Arms and Kickboard:

Use a kickboard or boogie board in waist-deep water with your legs spread evenly. Extend your arms in front of your body, holding the kickboard on either side. Position your hands toward the middle of the board to keep it from flipping over. Slowly push down towards your core. This may be a more difficult exercise, so do not focus on pushing the board completely flat against your body. However, over time, you can work toward that goal.

Aquatic Exercises for the Core

Wall Chair:

Stand with your back against the wall of the pool in a chest-deep area. Put your arms straight out on the edge of the pool on either side to hold your body weight. Keep your legs together and lift them towards your chest, bending at the knees. Repeat ten to fifteen times and then take a break. Once you master this move, you can twist your knees to alternating sides when lifting to further strengthen your core and back muscles. Another advanced move is to keep your legs straight and bend at the waist to bring your legs straight out in front of your body.

Water Yoga:

Like traditional yoga, water yoga improves balance and core strength. The basic yoga stretches work just as well in water. One stretch that builds core strength involves standing chest-deep in water on one leg and reaching behind you to grab the toes of the other leg, bent at the knee. Stretch your other arm straight out in front of you. If you are a yoga beginner, hold onto the side of the pool in front of you for balance. This increases core strength and improves balance simultaneously.

Try a few of these pool exercises this summer and enjoy exercising outdoors while staying cool in the water. As always, make sure to wear sunscreen and limit your aquatic workouts to 30 minutes or less to avoid too much sun exposure. For the fall and winter months, move to an indoor pool to maintain your aquatic exercise routine year round. Mix it up by adding these simple pool exercises into your workout plan—stay fit and strong without compromising your physical health!