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Water exercise — just what the doctor ordered

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists a number of health benefits related to swimming and other water-based activities, including improved joint function and reduced discomfort for arthritis sufferers, anxiety relief for fibromyalgia patients and better bone health in post-menopausal women.

No matter your age, exercise and activity in the water is ideal, because the risk of impact associated with exercise goes down dramatically. There are reduced risks for joint stress, slip-and-fall accidents, twisted ankles and broken bones. Even people with limited physical mobility or stamina often benefit from aquatic activities.

What’s particularly good about water is the compression water has on the body, bringing about cardiac and respiratory exercise, even if the person is not moving.

The benefits of swimming and other aquatic activities also extend beyond the physical realm. We traditionally think of health benefits in terms of exercise. And certainly there’s increased interest in exercise for cardiovascular health, diabetes control, weight control, obesity control and prevention of all of that. But I think, in addition to exercise, there’s the health benefit of learning water safety.

Aquatic activities play an important role in improving social health and well being — everything from reducing drowning rates through the teaching of water safety to giving people a chance to be included in peer group activities and integration into the local lifestyle, thereby minimizing social and physical isolation. Ask any of our recreation center members who faithfully participate in group water aerobics and they will tell you about the social health benefits.

Unfortunately, when we try to market those messages of physical and emotional wellness, we come up against a hurdle. People know to contact a doctor when facing concerns such as joint pain or potential heart attack, but rarely do they link participation in exercise to the prevention of those same health issues. A paradigm of thought is that the pool is a recreational facility, but in reality, the value that an aquatic facility provides to society is more years of being able to care for yourself. The positioning of pools and aquatic centers as places of play, rather than places of health — leaves them less valuable (and in some cases, highly vulnerable) in today’s struggling economy.

One challenge facing Pagosa Lakes Recreation Center, and many other aquatic centers, is the lack of disposable income among segments of Pagosa Lakes residents. Socio-economics plays a big part and trying to break down those social and economic barriers is an ongoing concern for management.

The good news is I’m seeing more older residents of Pagosa Lakes motivating themselves to maintain their health as they age. Our water fitness programs certainly accommodate a varying range of abilities and ages. We know, as we grow older, our bodies start to change — to fail us — and we accept other options that will allow us to stay active without the physical pain. Sometimes it takes a doctor’s recommendation to get people in the pool. Today, more than ever before, doctors want their patients to exercise, and the recreation center is prepared to help.

Just what the doctor ordered.

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