Swimming & Water Aerobics: The Best Exercises for Seniors

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When it comes to living healthy, we all know that following a regular exercise routine is key. And the older we get, the more important exercise becomes in order to stave off the various effects that aging has on the body.

The ability to engage in vigorous, fast-paced workouts diminish with age, so many Seniors choose more leisurely forms of exercise such as golf, walking, and yoga. Low-impact physical activities such as these are ideal for older adults because they put less strain on joints and result in fewer injuries compared to high-impact sports like basketball or tennis.

Although low-impact exercises are easier on the body, they fail to deliver the same results as their high-impact counterparts. As a result, many Seniors may not be getting enough of the right kinds of exercise. But there is one combination of low-impact activities that breaks the mold and offers a complete, one-two punch workout routine: swimming and water aerobics.

Why Swimming and Water Aerobics?

Essentially, swimming and water aerobics are two ways that older adults can cheat the system when it comes to exercising. Both of these aquatic activities are low-impact, but they offer the best benefits of high-impact workouts. Keeping a healthy exercise routine can literally be as simple as heading to the pool.

Consider these 10 reason why swimming and water aerobics may in fact be the best exercises for Seniors.

1. Swimming helps you live longer

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According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in November 2016, swimming can actually lower a person’s risk of death by 28%.1 Dr. Pekka Oja of the UKK Institute in Finland and his team of researchers studied the health data of 80,306 people in Scotland and England over a 14-year period from 1994 to 2008.

The scientists examined the death rates of the participants and found that swimming is the only low-impact exercise that significantly reduces a person’s risk of death by all causes.

2. Swimming is better for your heart than other exercises

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Dr. Hirofumi Tanaka of the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin set out to compare the effects of swimming vs cycling on heart health, and the American Journal of Cardiology published the results of this study in January of 2016. While both sport activities effectively reduce arterial stiffness, only swimming significantly increases vascular endothelial function.2 Healthy endothelial function helps ward off arterial plaque, stroke, and other serious cardiovascular diseases.

Furthermore, an earlier 1997 study conducted by the same lead doctor that appeared in the Journal of Hypertension showcased swimming’s superior efficacy at reducing the resting blood pressure of hypertensive patients.3 Dr. Tanaka found the results to be “clinically important” because swimming is such a great alternative to land-based exercises that are harder on the body.

3. Swimming can treat certain chronic illnesses

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In August 2016 the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation featured a study by Dr. Jamil Natour with the Federal University of Sao Paula in Brazil that evaluated swimming’s impact on patients with Fibromyalgia. The results of the study revealed that keeping a regular swimming routine reduces pain associated with Fibromyalgia and increases functional capacity.4

A research initiative conducted by Dr. Ching-Hsia Hung at the China Medical University in Taiwan found that swimming can actually serve to treat peripheral neuropathic pain.5 Older adults who experience peripheral neuropathy due to diabetes, poor circulation, or other chronic conditions may find welcome relief by taking up swimming. 

Finally, another study by Dr. Tanaka published in the Journal of Rheumatology in March of 2016 sought to discover how swimming affects older adults with Osteoarthritis. The study determined that swimming not only reduces joint pain and stiffness brought on by Osteoarthritis, but the aquatic exercise also improves muscle strength and functional capacity.6

4. Swimming helps prevent falls

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According to a study featured in the American Journal of Epidemiology in September 2014, swimming can decrease older adults’ risk of falling by 33%.7 Dafna Merom, Associate Professor of Physical Activity and Health at Western Sydney University, and her team of researchers studied a group of 1,667 men ages 70 and older over a four-year period.

Perhaps the more shocking discovery from the study is that certain land-based exercises including golfing, calisthenics, running on treadmills, and riding stationary bikes have absolutely no effect on preventing falls! Apparently coordinating body movement in water develops strong core muscles and overall stability in ways that non-aquatic exercises simply do not.

5. Swimming boosts cognitive function

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A group of PhD candidates led by Amira Abou-Dest at the University of Poitiers in France conducted a study to determine what cognitive effects swimming has on adults ages 65 to 80 years old. In August of 2012 the Journal of Aging Research published the study along with its findings that older adults who engage in a regular swimming routine exhibit appreciable gains in cognitive function.8

What makes the results particularly exciting is that swimming helped improve prefrontal and frontal performance, the areas of the brain that experience normal decline with age. Swimming literally slows down the mental aging process!

6. Swimming lifts your mood

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Dr. Pirkko Huttunen of the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Oulu in Finland monitored the mood of individuals who swam regularly over a span of four months. As published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health in June of 2004, the study found that committing to a swimming regimen decreases tension and increases overall mood.9

Swimming is a great way to lift your spirits!

7. Swimming and water aerobics have a very low rate of injury

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One of the most important factors that makes swimming and water aerobics superior to other types of exercise is their extremely low rate of injury. There is always some risk in participating in any physical activity, but exercises of the aquatic variety are hands down the safest for Seniors.

According to a study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences in October of 2013, Dr. Stefan Zwingenberger of the University Hospital in Dresden collected data from 212 triathletes over a 12-month period to investigate training and injury patterns. The findings showed that 50% of injuries occurred during running, 43% during cycling, and only 7% during swimming.10

The inherently buoyant and insulating qualities of water make swimming and water aerobics especially low-risk exercises.

8. Water aerobics helps build bone density

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The aging process naturally causes a decrease in bone mass, which weakens bones and can potentially lead to osteoporosis. It is very important, therefore, that older adults find a way to strengthen their bones and decrease the risk of sustaining a fracture.

One glaring weakness of swimming is that it does very little, if anything, to increase bone density. Seniors normally resort to some sort of land-based resistance training to strengthen bones, but these workouts carry higher levels of risk compared to aquatic exercises. That’s where water aerobics comes in.

In April 2013 the Brazilian Journal of Rheumatology published a study conducted by a cohort of PhD candidates at the University of Brazil that examined the bone density of postmenopausal women. The researchers compared the effects of land-based resistance training vs weight-bearing water aerobics on bone mass and found that weight-bearing water aerobics is just as effective at increasing bone density as land-based resistance exercises.11 Pair swimming with water aerobics to ensure a complete workout.

9. Water aerobics can be social

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While swimming certainly stands out for its physical conditioning benefits, the exercise fails to offer much in the way of socialization. There’s simply no time for chit chat when every moment above water is needed for breathing and taking breaks. But once again, water aerobics serves as the perfect complement to swimming.

Since water aerobics keeps your head above water, the exercise is great for carrying on a conversation with other participants. Consider joining a class at a nearby gym, Senior center, or neighborhood pool to enjoy good company while getting in shape!

10. Swimming and water aerobics are fun!

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Splashing around in the pool can be just as much fun during your golden years as it was when you were wearing floaties. Set up a timer while swimming laps and try to attain new personal records. Throw dive rings into the pool and swim to the bottom to retrieve them. Bring speakers and listen to music during aerobics class. Just remember to have fun!

Before taking the plunge

Be sure to get approval from your primary care physician before starting a swimming and water aerobics regimen. Only you and your doctor know what your body can handle, so set an appointment to discuss how often and how long you should exercise.

One final note: remember to only swim when a lifeguard is present and/or when accompanied with other swimmers. Consider investing in a waterproof personal emergency response system (PERS) device. A waterproof emergency medical alert pendant follows you into the shower, the bath and the pool. If you fall, get dizzy, or feel weak, help is just a button-press away. Remember that part of enjoying swimming and water aerobics means being safe.

Swimming and Water Aerobics Best Exercises for Seniors Infographic


1. Oja, Pekka, et al. “Associations of Specific Types of Sports and Exercise with All-Cause and Cardiovascular-Disease Mortality: a Cohort Study of 80 306 British Adults.” Br J Sports Med, BMJ Publishing Group Ltd and British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine, 1 May 2017, bjsm.bmj.com/content/51/10/812.

2. Alkatan, M, et al. “Effects of Swimming and Cycling Exercise Intervention on Vascular Function in Patients With Osteoarthritis.” The American Journal of Cardiology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26541906?dopt=Abstract.

3. Tanaka, H, et al. “Swimming Training Lowers the Resting Blood Pressure in Individuals with Hypertension.” Journal of Hypertension., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Jan. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9218185.

4. Fernandes, G, et al. “Swimming Improves Pain and Functional Capacity of Patients With Fibromyalgia: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 20 Feb. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26903145.

5. Chen, Y W, et al. “Exercise Training Attenuates Neuropathic Pain and Cytokine Expression after Chronic Constriction Injury of Rat Sciatic Nerve.” Anesthesia and Analgesia., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 13 Mar. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22415536.

6. Alkatan, M, et al. “Improved Function and Reduced Pain after Swimming and Cycling Training in Patients with Osteoarthritis.” The Journal of Rheumatology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Jan. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26773104.

7. Merom, D, et al. “Swimming and Other Sporting Activities and the Rate of Falls in Older Men: Longitudinal Findings from the Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project.”American Journal of Epidemiology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Oct. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25193746.

8. Abou-Dest, Amira, et al. “Swimming as a Positive Moderator of Cognitive Aging: A Cross-Sectional Study with a Multitask Approach.” Journal of Aging Research, Hindawi, 26 Dec. 2012, www.hindawi.com/journals/jar/2012/273185/.

9. Huttunen, P, et al. “Winter Swimming Improves General Well-Being.” International Journal of Circumpolar Health., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 June 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15253480.

10. Zwingenberger, S, et al. “An Epidemiological Investigation of Training and Injury Patterns in Triathletes.” Journal of Sports Sciences., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 9 Oct. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24102132.

11. Balsamo, S, et al. “Resistance Training versus Weight-Bearing Aquatic Exercise: a Cross-Sectional Analysis of Bone Mineral Density in Postmenopausal Women.”Revista Brasileira De Reumatologia., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23856796.