Why Water Aerobics and Swimming Are So Good for Seniors

By Jim Thornton |

If you want to add years to your life and life to your years, it’s time to take the plunge and try water aerobics and swimming.

water aerobics and swimming

If you think the fountain of youth is just a myth, maybe you should put a little spin on that idea. You don’t drink the water that makes you feel younger — you exercise in it. Research shows that water aerobics and swimming are both a huge plus for senior’s physical and mental health.  

A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that older adults who participated in an aquatic exercise program for 28 weeks showed more improvements in muscle mass, functional fitness and cognitive function than those who didn’t hop in a pool. 

So dig out your swimsuit and see for yourself how aquatic exercise can improve both your current quality of life and your future health.

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Health Benefits of Swimming for Seniors

Bragging rights aside, swimming does have advantages over land-based exercise. Like other forms of fitness, swimming can help you burn calories, boost mental health, lose weight, and build strength. A few laps are sure to leave you feeling good.

The other thing that sets swimming and other aquatic exercise programs apart? Low injury rates. Running, tennis, and team sports are associated with a higher risk of injuries among adults, according to a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Swimming, by contrast, is not—which is one reason so many exercise physiologists tout it as an ideal lifelong sport. It’s also an appropriate sport for all fitness levels.

Provided you practice good technique, swimming is an extremely forgiving form of exercise, says Joel Stager, Ph.D., director of the Indiana University Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming.

“Working out in water is largely non-impact,” he says. “There isn’t nearly as much wear and tear on the joints as there is in running.” You’d be hard-pressed to find another no-impact exercise routine that takes your joints through swimming’s range of motion and provides a workout for as many muscle groups.

For some people, such joint-friendliness can mean the difference between staying active and hardly moving at all. Older adults with arthritis, heart disease, prior injuries, or extra weight may find even slow walking too painful or difficult. Not so in your local swimming pool, thanks to the buoyancy of water.

How to get started: If you’d like to learn how to swim — or brush up on your strokes — look into a few lessons at your local pool. You can find participating SilverSneakers fitness locations with pools here. Tip: Use the “Filter” tool and click “Amenities” to narrow your search to locations with pools.

Already comfortable in the water? Improve your swimming technique and get the results you want with these 10 tips for a better swimming workout.

If you’re ready to take your lap-swimming up a notch, consider looking into programs offered locally by U.S. Masters Swimming. This is a nationwide community of nearly 65,000 adults committed to swimming for fun and fitness. You don’t have to compete, but a good number of these swimmers race in age groups that range from 18 to 24 all the way to 100 to 104.

These competitive swimmers have attracted research interest because they appear to be trailblazers for optimal aging. A study from the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, for instance, looked at hypertension in 1,346 Masters swimmers compared to age- and gender-matched folks from the general population. The swimmers, they found, were more than twice as likely to be free of high blood pressure as their land-loving peers.

In other work, Stager and his colleagues assessed biological markers of aging in 172 Masters swimmers attending a national competition. Though this number likely included some of the top senior athletes in the country, their health advantages over their peers in the general population were nevertheless eye-opening:

  • Their lung function was 15 percent better than age-predicted values.
  • Their total cholesterol levels were eight to 10 percent lower than non-swimmers, and their HDL (often called “good”) cholesterol was higher.
  • They had bigger and stronger muscles for their age group.

“Masters swimmers,” concludes Stager, “appear to maintain a higher level of functioning, independence, and quality of life as they age.”

Health Benefits of Water Aerobics for Seniors

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Many people are surprised to learn that you don’t need to be a good swimmer to get a big boost from aquatic exercise. In fact, you don’t even need to know how to swim to take part in a water aerobics class.

Here’s why these classes get such high marks: Muscles face more resistance in water than on land. That means you don’t need to pick up heavy weights to combat muscle loss. Pushing and pulling the water with your own bodyweight is its own form of strength training.

At the same time, the buoyancy factor makes a water workout easier on knees and ankles — you’re simply not hitting the ground as hard.

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Water aerobics classes can improve heart health, muscle strength, and joint mobility in a fun, supportive environment.

How to get started: Many pools offer a full menu of water-aerobics classes — from ones specifically aimed at those with arthritis to low-impact, high-intensity intervals classes.

SilverSneakers Splash, for example, is a water aerobics and strength class designed for all skill levels—even non-swimmers. This aqua exercise class offers a full body workout that reduces impact on your knees and back. It’s available through SilverSneakers, a health and fitness program that’s included with many Medicare Advantage plans. Check your SilverSneakers eligibility instantly here.

Recommended workout that you can do on your own: A 20-Minute Cardio Interval Workout You Can Do in the Pool


  • Wear water shoes to protect your feet and prevent slipping.
  • Position yourself so that the water’s surface roughly aligns to the middle of your rib cage and chest. That way your feet can easily stay on the bottom of the pool.
  • Stand tall with your core muscles engaged.
  • Land on the balls of your feet, pressing through to your heel, when doing any jumping moves.

See our sources:
Health benefits of aquatic exercise for seniors: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 

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