Make a splash for a great workout

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— How can you beat the heat and get a great workout? Try the swimming pool.

Swimming and other water exercises are a wonderful way for people of all ages and abilities to get into shape.

Like other forms of exercise, swimming and water fitness reduce the risks of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

But there are advantages of exercising in the water that you don't get from aerobic exercise on land. The properties of water and buoyancy are different from the properties of air and gravity.

In water, your muscles have to work against a resistance that is about 775 times greater than that of air. So even if you excel at running or stair climbing, cross-training in the water can increase your strength and cardiovascular capacity.

"An efficient and effective workout is all about manipulating intensity," said Peggy Van Vliet, a water aerobics instructor at Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association.

"The water's drag force is opposing your movement, which increases the intensity. This, in turn, will strengthen your musculoskeletal and cardiorespiratory system."

The buoyancy of water supports your body's weight and relieves pressure on the joints, making it ideal for seniors, disabled individuals and people suffering from arthritis or recovering from injuries.

Swimming and most water exercises use several muscle groups, giving the body a more complete workout than activities such as walking, running or stair-climbing that work only the legs.

"In the water, resistance can be experienced in all directions," Peggy pointed out.

"The emphasis is placed on the direction of the movement necessary to challenge the targeted muscles."

Because of the resistance, don't expect to perform as well in water as you can on land. Initially, swimming even one lap may be tiring.

But no matter how far you swim, you can get a good workout if you maintain a vigorous pace. To ensure that your pace is effective, check your heart rate periodically.

For an optimal workout, your heart rate should be in your target zone, which is 65 to 85 percent of 220 minus your age. You would then subtract 17 beats per minute for deep-water adjustment or seven bpm for shallow water.

Remember that your training heart rate will be lower in water due to hydrostatic pressure of the water.

This pressure prevents blood from pooling in the lower extremities and aids in the venous return of blood to the heart.

Swimming is not the only way to get a good water workout. Twenty minutes of walking laps in the pool is three to four times more effective aerobic exercise than level walking outside.

Leg raises in waist-deep water strengthen hips, thighs and buttocks. Hold the pool wall and raise one leg at a time as high as possible to the side, back or front. Pull it down again with equal force. Repeat 15 to 30 times.

Or try cross kicks. With both hands holding the pool wall in the deep end, push your legs apart in a split and pull them across each other as far as possible. Alternate crossing right over left and vice versa 15 to 30 times to work abdominals, lower back, hip abductors and abductors.

When you have become comfortable with the natural resistance of water, resistance equipment can be added. Peggy uses many types of equipment to enhance intensity in the classes she teaches.

Health and Rec offers seven water exercise classes each week. Classes are taught for all abilities in both deep and shallow water, and personal training is also offered.

If you don't know how to swim, it's never too late to learn. Water fitness is something you can do to stay in shape well into your 80s and 90s.

Regardless of age and skill level, you can always enjoy the fitness benefits of making waves at the pool. So drag that swimsuit out of the closet and come join the fun.

Jean Labaree is an ACE-certified fitness instructor, personal trainer at Health and Rec and wellness counselor for the Yampa Valley Health Plan.

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