Remember when the movie Cocoon packed theaters in the 1980s? In the film, a group of retirees swam in a pool which mysteriously granted them youthful exuberance.
Today, thousands of older adults have flocked to swimming pools seeking the same healing powers the water can bring (and this time without a science fiction plot involved or actor Wilfred Brimley). Fitness centers across the country have added “water fitness” classes geared towards retirees, offering a chance for both physical therapy and fun.
“It can be therapeutic and definitely helps the aging process,” said John Spannuth, President of the United States Water Fitness Association. “It’s great for stress relief, since stress can sap energy and shorten life. But, most importantly, it’s a lot of fun.”
Water fitness classes offer all sorts of activities – from full-on aerobic workouts (geared for those with advanced athletic ability) to drills of simple movements helpful for people suffering from limited physical capabilities.
Water walking has become one of the most common forms of the activity. In water walking, participants simply walk across the length of a pool, with the natural resistance of the water helping boost cardio activity.
Water fitness classes also provide an opportunity for socializing, which can help retirees who may feel self-conscious about trying to improve their health alone. People who can’t swim can also walk in the water.
“It’s very easy to do,” Spannuth said. “People just enjoy being in the water. They can talk to each other and have a lot of fun. The key is you don’t get your face wet and don’t even have to be able to swim.”
While no data exists on how many people participate in water fitness programs, Spannuth said water fitness classes have exploded in recent years. Each year, he says, the amount of classes available throughout the country grows by 10%.
YMCAs, private aquatic centers, public pools and gyms like LA Fitness all offer water fitness programs. Many programs tailor classes to specific needs. For example, people who need a program for some sort of physical therapy can enroll in a class designed specifically for their recuperation.
Spannuth’s life in the water got off to an inauspicious start.
“When I was six, I was at a family friend’s house. My parents told me not to go into the swimming pool, but I did with my friend. I didn’t know there was a steep drop-off, and I almost drowned,” he said. “But I learned my lesson.”
His near death experience motivated him to learn to swim. And now, he spends his life helping retirees bring a new sense of vitality to their lives in the water, just like the movies.
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