As temperatures creep up and humidity levels soar, hitting the pool or beach offers some welcome relief from the heat. Not only does getting wet help you feel refreshed, but it also burns calories – perhaps even more than if you exercised in an air-conditioned gym.
Water workouts are easy on the joints while offering a heart-pumping workout. In fact, research suggests that people who exercise in the water burn as much fat and build as much muscle as those who stick with land-based fitness regimens. Sometimes the calorie burn is even more intense in water, since water provides 12 to 15 times more resistance than air. And it doesn’t stress your joints, making it especially appropriate for those recovering from an injury, people with joint problems and seniors.
You don’t have to swim laps to get the benefits of working out in water. Paddleboarding, water aerobics or even a competitive game of water polo all offer extraordinary benefits. From moves you can do on your own to high-energy games for the whole family, here are five ways to get fit and stay cool.
1. Vary your strokes. If you’re swimming laps, consider mixing up your strokes for maximum benefit. Start with the butterfly or freestyle and move on to the backstroke or breaststroke. Varying swim strokes allows you to work your chest, upper back and shoulders.
2. Practice aqua jogging. Running in water is similar to ground running, at least in terms of the muscles required to move. While some experts recommend using a flotation belt until you get acclimated, my advice is to skip it – unless you can’t swim. You’ll get a better workout without the belt and learn to maintain proper posture during exercise.
3. Try water aerobics. Whether you tread water or do a set of jumping jacks, water aerobics can get your heart pumping without compromising your joints. You can even use water dumbbells, which push the water back and forth, to add resistance to your workout.
4. Have fun at the lake. Bored with the pool?Head to the ocean, lake or river to shake up your fitness regimen. Body surf in the ocean, paddleboard on the lake or brave the rapids of the river. Not only will the varying activities prevent boredom, they’ll also work different muscle groups. Just be sure to be safe – pay attention to any posted warnings about swimming conditions, choose a beach with a lifeguard on duty when possible and wear life jackets.
5. Play water sports. Some sports — like swimming and water polo — are go-to pool sports. But any sport played in the water offers a welcome respite from the heat. Put up a net and you can play volleyball or basketball. Playing in the pool with your kids? Try a game of Marco Polo to keep the whole family fit.
No matter which water workout you choose, don’t forget to stay hydrated – especially if it’s warm outside. Immersing yourself in water tends to confuse our natural thirst cues, so don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink up. And as with any outdoor activity, protect yourself from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Wear a broad-brimmed hat and swim shirt and slather on a generous amount of sunscreen every few hours.
Christina Chapski, Ed.D., AT, ATC, is the Director of Athletic Training and Community Outreach at Henry Ford Health. Read more of Christina's articles.