We all have one special home we live in our entire lives: our bodies. When older adults are working against arthritis and other challenges to their mobility, it’s not just their physical fitness that backslides—they’re also likely to lose touch and feel disconnected from their bodies. When we’re not feeling actively in touch with those living homes, we feel displaced, and other aspects of our lives can get out of balance, too.
If your discouragement and disconnection stem from feelings of inability or disability related to aging, there is an enjoyable and accessible solution to bring you hope—and to bring you back home. Swimming and water aerobics classes near you in San Francisco can override many of the limitations that prevent you from exercising your physical body. And feeling the welcoming water that embraces you can help you to become aware of your body again. Aquatic opportunities like these give you a brand new way of relating to your body’s dynamic presence and developing compassionate expectations. Over the longer term, these practices can help you get stronger and reconnect with your home body on land, too.
The Benefits of Swimming and Water Aerobics for Older Adults
Feelings of helplessness are common among older adults who have become less able to trust and rely on their bodies’ strength and stability. A 2014 Australian study was the first to evaluate older adults and the incidence of falls alongside participation in specific types of physical activities and sports. Researchers “found that swimming was the only sport associated with a substantially lower risk of falling,” likely because the exercise helps to improve participants’ balance.
While swimming is a relatively gentle, low-impact form of exercise, it requires very complex and consistent involvement from many core muscles all at once. “Swimmers must maintain a horizontal body position in the water to avoid drag by using their core muscles,” the researchers wrote. Ultimately, compared to participants in the study who did not practice swimming, those who did swim experienced fewer falls over a six-year period.
While no single approach is a catch-all, swimming offers diverse benefits for aging adults to improve their health, and it’s an accessible activity for many who are unable to practice other types of exercise. As the water reduces the force of gravity on the feet and legs and other stabilizing muscles of the body, older adults who are recovering from injuries and those with unreliable balance can engage in swimming without the same risks as standing and moving on solid ground.
This is what is meant by low-impact exercise. Swimming and water aerobics do not put as much pressure on the joints and other at-risk areas of the body, but they still introduce cardiovascular stimulation and strength and balance training. Because swimming is not weight-bearing like so many other forms of exercise, it may not offer direct benefit for bone health and prevention of osteoporosis that weight-bearing exercises do. However, for people who are currently at risk of falling when participating in weight-bearing workouts, swimming may be an accessible activity that can prepare them for those important exercises, helping to improve their strength, balance, and coordination.
Swimming and water aerobics help older adults to:
- Stay cool even while positively increasing warm blood flow and cardiovascular exercise.
- Regularly train their muscles, balance, breathing, and heart health, even when other forms of exercise are too difficult or dangerous
- Burn calories in an enjoyable way for a healthy body weight.
- Work out many muscles groups all at once, counteracting the potential effects of sarcopenia.
- Bring flowing movements into the joints that might otherwise experience stiffness and inactivity.
- Socialize with a group of other older adults engaging in great habits for health and wellness.
If you feel drawn to any or all of these wonderful benefits, take a look at this list of opportunities for great water exercises right here in San Francisco.
Swimming and Water Aerobics Classes for Older Adults in San Francisco
Staying active is important, no matter your age. We all need to find the fitness activities that we enjoy and ways to stay engaged and involved on a regular basis for long-term wellness. When you’re limited—by age or by certain disabilities—it can be harder to find the activities that are right for you but not impossible! Especially here in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area, there are plenty of swimming classes and other aquatic opportunities to help you get moving.
There are YMCA centers all over San Francisco and the wider Bay Area. As a non-profit organization, the YMCA offers special membership pricing for older adults—and a sliding scale when appropriate, so it’s worth reaching out even if you think the cost might be a barrier to getting involved in the many wonderful benefits of their community offerings and fitness classes for older adults. You can join online or in person. First, you’ll want to locate your nearest branch and take a look at their class schedules to see if there are opportunities you’re interested in. Among other aquatic classes, these offerings are great for getting started:
- The Y’s Aqua Basic Strength class uses the resistance of the water itself to gently strengthen the body overall while also exercising the cardiovascular system.
- Aqua Zumba takes the popular dance aerobic class into the pool. These classes are fun, musical, and low-impact even as your body really gets moving. If you love to dance but find it difficult on land, Aqua Zumba can be a great option for rhythmic exercise and music therapy combined.
The JCC is another great community center where you can enjoy fitness classes in the pool among other great benefits. You can contact their membership department to find out to join with a Fitness Center Membership. Then, you can enjoy these and other guided fitness practices:
- The Warm Water Movement Class is for everyone, even beginner swimmers, and participants are encouraged to set their own goals and their own pace for success.
- Low-Intensity Aqua Fit is a class in the shallow side of the pool. This class’s creative activities are designed to help individuals overcome mobility restrictions with the natural support of the water and other equipment.
24 Hour Fitness has 10 gym locations right in San Francisco and plenty more throughout the Bay Area. If you’re interested, locate your nearest 24 Hour Fitness and reach out to them for membership details. (You can also check on your eligibility for covered gym membership and classes through Medicare with the Silver Sneakers program.) These gyms offer pool classes designed with older adults in mind:
- Aqua Zumba is refreshing and energizing, all while being gentle on the joints and eliminating the risk of falling. Zumba classes are traditionally community-centered, guided dance parties, and these pool classes invite everyone to join in—even when limitations have stopped you in the past.
- Aqua Class is a creative water aerobics workout that brings together cardio and strength training. Participants will use the water as a tool for resistance, as well as noodles and special water weights.
Make a Splash as You Rediscover Your Happy Body
Another excellent benefit of these local opportunities for aquatic fitness is that you can continue to participate in any season, in any weather. Since indoor swimming is climate controlled, we don’t need to think about it as just a summer activity. The sport overcomes physical and environmental limitations. Whether it can help you to overcome your internal limitations is up to you. If you’re interested in reconnecting with your body and recommitting to your well-being, swimming may be the path back home.
We recognize that staying connected with yourself and your evolving needs is a lifelong challenge—one that we all experience in our own ways. Institute on Aging is here to help you with carefully designed programs and resources. Our Social Day Program incorporates regular physical activity geared toward participants’ different abilities and limitations. To find out more, reach out to us directly.