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Swimming isn’t just a fun summer activity. It can be a great exercise for both the mind and body of Boomers.
Swimming is often called the world’s perfect exercise. And why not? You don’t have to be a professional or need extensive training, a coach or expensive equipment. And it’s great for senior adults.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say water-based exercise improves quality of life and decreases disability among older adults and maintains bone health in postmenopausal women.
Engaging in 150 minutes of weekly aerobic activity decreases chronic illnesses. Swimming is also a great aerobic activity because it is less stressful on joints than other types of exercises.
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Bonnie LeBlanc, manager of Health Programs at the Ochsner Fitness Center, says water fitness has many benefits for seniors. It works the heart muscle and improves circulation, aiding in weight loss. It helps build strength, which reduces the risk of injuries.
It’s also beneficial in recovery after falls or rehab from operations, and the buoyancy of the water supports body weight, reducing the impact on hips, knees, ankles, and the back.
“Water fitness is an effective way for seniors to keep active, and aqua classes are especially useful for seniors who suffer from arthritis, joint issues, and circulation problems,” LeBlanc says. “The swimming exercises help not only with coordination and balance, but also improves muscle tone.”
Ochsner operates pools in Harahan and Metairie.
As might be expected in a city surrounded by water, New Orleans offers a myriad of opportunities for swimmers and water fitness enthusiasts.
One devotee, Dr. Elizabeth Poe, didn’t start swimming until she attended college. “There was a requirement that we be able to swim the width of the pool, which I couldn’t do,” she says. “So I was required to take low beginners swimming and have really never stopped swimming since then.”
Swimming helped her through cancer treatment: “I am a breast cancer survivor, and I continued to swim practically every day through four chemo infusions and 35 radiation treatments.”
Recently retired from Tulane where she taught French for 40 years and swam regularly at the Reily Center, Poe hits the water for 40 minutes every day at her new residence, Lambeth House. Lambeth, an assisted living facility in New Orleans, offers an aqua fitness class, but Poe prefers to swim alone.
Suffering from a bad back, she says, “Swimming is better for me than some other forms of exercise.”
University of New Orleans hosts the Greater New Orleans Senior Olympic Games each spring. The swimming event at the UNO Lakefront Arena Aquatic Center attracts 25-30 participants, some of whom were high school or college swimmers.
Ellen Hall, event organizer, says, “Some fitness swimmers, like myself, just enjoy the camaraderie of being with other swimmers who very much enjoy the water and the sport.”
Swimming Around the City
New Orleans is home to a number of United States Masters Swimming teams, such as the Riptide Masters, a USMS workout group at UNO that includes senior swimmers.
Loyola’s University Sports Complex includes an indoor pool with daily open swim. Golden Wolves (alumni who graduated at least 50 years ago) pay a reduced membership rate.
The YMCA of Greater New Orleans offers Senior Water Aerobics and private lessons for seniors. The East Jefferson, Belle Chasse, and West St. Tammany Y locations have outdoor pools open April through October.
The Goldring-Woldenberg Jewish Community Center in Metairie offers a summer class called H2O Exercise for Arthritis at its outdoor pool, complete with range-of-motion and stretching exercises.
The New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) includes 19 parks with pools, four indoors. Gert Town Natatorium and Joe W. Brown Park offer low-impact water aerobics classes. Aqua fitness has been offered at the Behrman, Lyons, Stallings Gentilly, St. Bernard, Stallings St. Claude, Sanchez, Treme, and Whitney Young outdoor pools. (The 2019 schedule was not available at time of print.)
According to Ashlei Morrison, public outreach and communications director for NORD, their senior programming has high participation, with most classes and events full or heavily attended.
Beyond the physical benefits, swimming is one key to combating depression, helping seniors fight isolation and loneliness. LeBlanc says, “The number one benefit is social interaction, which is so important.”
In addition to swimming laps, which is a great cardiovascular workout and good for strengthening muscles, you can try simple water aerobics exercises, recommended by Senior Lifestyle, a senior services company.
- Aqua jogging is jogging (or walking) from one side of the pool to the other or marching in place.
- Flutter kicking can incorporate a kickboard, or you can use the side of the pool to anchor yourself as you flutter kick.
- Leg lifts are just what they say: you lift your leg to the side and then back down. Repeat for improved balance and a stronger core.
- Standing water push-ups are done while standing near the pool’s wall, placing your hands on the wall and pushing back and then leaning in. If you want to get fancy, you can acquire water weights and try arm curls, curling the weights up and down while you stand in place in the pool.
Valerie J. Andrews is a writer and communication strategist in the Greater New Orleans area. She has been published in the Journal for Minority Medical Students, the Nursing and Allied Health Journal, Ascension Parish Magazine, and the Loyola Maroon, to name a few.