Make a Splash

lifestyle magazine online london

"Get Wet to Get Fit"

As a yoga teacher at one of the city’s larger gyms, Jenny Hauser has access to many forms of fitness. After being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her knees, the 56- year old London woman decided that she “needed to find a more balanced exercise program that didn’t include any stress on the joints.”

Hauser discovered deep water aquafit classes at the Canada Games Aquatic Centre, so she works out there twice a week in addition to swimming laps, teaching yoga three times each week and taking two 45-minute walks with her dog every day. Like many Canadians, she’s been active all her life, enjoying cross country and downhill skiing, running, cycling and describes herself as an “avid walker.”

Aquafit is often thought of as an easy workout but with many younger, fitter people pursuing alternative types of exercise in their 30s, 40s and 50s, what’s offered today isn’t you’re granny’s aquafit. And even if she is a granny, she’s a fit and active one who wants a vigorous workout that pushes the limits without damaging her joints.

Because of these changing demographics, the Aquatic Centre now offers a variety of new classes. “We started adding more intense classes a year and half ago because we saw more patrons who are younger coming back from maternity leaves and injuries attending aqua classes. They are bringing friends in who are getting back into exercise, too.”

Several fitness centres in and around London offer both deep and shallow water classes. Both are kinder to ankle, knee and hip joints than land classes, but the deep water option puts no stress on these joints and can be a more intense core workout because of the need to stabilize oneself in the water.

“I like deep water because it’s more challenging. You can’t cheat because you have to initiate movements with your body and can’t bounce off the (pool) floor,” says Timarra Milmine, who has been an aquafit instructor for 20 years and presently teaches at the YMCA’s Centre Branch.

"Aquafit classes are attracting a younger demographic"

lifestyle magazine online london

While being comfortable in the water is required, one doesn’t need to be a good swimmer. Deep water class participants often wear flotation belts and in shallow water classes, it’s easy to touch bottom.

Aquafit is an effective form of exercise because it builds both strength and endurance. When doing cardio “in the water, it’s easier to get your heart rate up,” says Angela Swalwell, who teaches aqua classes at the Fitness Forum and has been an instructor for 25 years, “and you burn a lot of calories.”

Moving in the water provides natural resistance training. “Aquafit is as good as or better than land group exercise because water has more resistance than air and everything is reversible. For instance, a bicep curl moving down is also a tricep curl,” says Milmine.

Some classes – like aqua zumba – involve dance movements, which also provide a mental workout, as participants learn new routines and move to the lively music’s beat.

Classes are also very social, providing opportunities to form new friendships. This is the case for Hauser, who says she’s made many pool acquaintances that she talks with before and after class, as well as another classmate with whom she’s formed an out-of-pool friendship.

“Aquafitness meets the person where they are,” says Angela Waterfield, a long-time aqua instructor who teaches at Goodlife. “It relieves anxiety and stress, in addition to physical exercise.”

It’s good for those just getting into exercise, according to Michelle Kerr, who teaches both land and water group exercise programs for Goodlife. “Aquafit has a growing popularity for people who are unconditioned and self-conscious. There are no mirrors like in a land class. You don’t stand out as much in a group setting if you aren’t coordinated.”

A challenging workout or one that’s designed to get you back in shape, working out in the water offers both. Best of all, you can lose weight while getting in shape. “It’s great for people who want to get lean because nothing builds muscle like working out in the water,” says Swalwell.