Summer’s unofficial pastime makes waves in healthy living as water activities not only provide a fun, recreational retreat, but an effective workout medium that can coax even the most sedentary people off the couch.
While some might conjure images of Olympian Michael Phelps mid-dive when considering swimming as exercise, local instructors stress even the most basic of water exercises can help promote healthier lifestyles and bolster body systems.
Swimming, the fourth most popular sports activity in the nation according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides vital aerobic exercise that strengthens cardio-pulmonary systems.
The CDC reports two hours weekly of regular aerobic exercise — such as swimming — can decrease the risk of chronic disease, while routine swimmers generally have about half the risk of death when compared to inactive people.
“The water is perfect for completely healthy athletes to people who are needing physical therapy,” said Gail Wagner, an 11-year water aerobics instructor in Paducah.
“You can get into the water and whatever level you are, it’s going to be a better workout than if you didn’t do anything at all or even on land where you can tire out faster.”
Water provides a medium that acts in separate capacities during exercise, both in support and resistance of the body, Wagner said.
Once immersed in water, a person’s heart rate will slow by about 15 beats per minute compared to on land since the heart doesn’t have to pump blood as hard in a low-gravity situation.
Along those same lines, people up to their armpits in water only feel about 10 percent of their body weight — 50 percent if immersed to the belly button — because of support from the water, Wagner said.
Water provides about 12 times the resistance of air and at all angles, meaning a person can work both biceps and triceps equally, for example, without added weights, Wagner said. The body also tends to stay cooler when working out in water, which can help people exercise for longer.
“The water allows you to customize your workout by making it easier or harder, and no one else knows how hard you’re pushing yourself so there’s no judgment or competition,” she said.
“It’s as hard as you make it.”
As a general rule of thumb, water exercises can burn up to 200 more calories doing the similar exercises on land.
Jason Cravens, Paducah Swim Team head coach, said all ages of participants enroll in his swim classes at the Paducah Athletic Club, and many choose to pick up swimming because there’s much less impact on joints than running.
“Swimming is a beautiful, lifetime sport,” Cravens said. “You definitely don’t have to swim miles and miles like Mr. Phelps did. As far as fitness is concerned, you don’t have to be training like an Olympian to get the benefits.
“I would not recommend anything above it. As far as friendly to the body, I can’t think of anything better.”
Contact Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.