Fitness for Newbies: Exercising in Water

November 15, 2009

Diving in head first

by Judy Smith

exercising in waterRock me on the water / Sister won’t you sooth my fevered brow – Jackson Brown

Water images abound in literature and song, almost always as a rejuvenator. Some scientists believe that we crawled out from the watery depths to gradually breathe air and sprout two legs. Is it any wonder that water is our friend?

Water soothes us when we’re sore or troubled. It absorbs tension and pain, helps our muscles gain strength, increases flexibility and circulation, and keeps our “grey cells” from disintegration. We feel refreshed after a walk by the ocean or being in water, whatever form that takes: a shower, a bath, a swim, or simply washing our face in the morning. A steam bath or sauna can literally make our skin tingle.

As our bodies age, our joints stiffen and our bones become more brittle. Exercising in water is the safest and easiest way of gaining strength and equilibrium; however, what if we’ve never been anywhere near a swimming pool? How do we take that first dive into the unknown?

Fortunately for us, people at aquatic and community centers make it easy for seniors to participate, offering swimming classes and aquatic exercises designed specifically for seniors and at a discounted rate. Classes are usually during the day, so we don’t have to compete with children screaming and splashing or young people who parade their sculpted taut bodies along the pool side or dive gracefully off the highest board. Let’s face it: sagging breasts and butts are normal for our age. Some of us are overweight; some are downright obese. When we’re with people our own age, body physique doesn’t matter as much; we have more important issues to concern ourselves with. We’re probably not here for a long time, so let’s make it a good time. It is in this spirit that a newcomer is welcomed with open arms and with plenty of advice:

  • That’s a new girl at the desk. She should have told you that you need a quarter for the locker. Here, I’ll lend you one. Me, I got one of these pad locks. That way, you don’t have to worry about having change on you all the time. Plus, you can get in and out of your locker whenever you want.
  • Those change rooms are a pain in the butt. There’s not enough room in there to turn around. You can change out in the open, no problem. We’re all grown women here. There’s nothing you have that we haven’t seen before.
  • This place doesn’t keep the floor very clean. You should get yourself some of these cheap flip-flops. I got these at ___________, and paid only _____for them. (Someone else will be sure to agree or disagree, leading to a lively discussion about where to buy flip-flops.)
  • I wear this swim cap because it costs me an arm and a leg to have my hair done every week. But some people don’t have to worry about that. (This might lead to a discussion about where to have your hair done.)
  • Goggles? Can’t stand wearing them, myself. But if you find that the water burns your eyes….Sometimes they have a heavy hand with the chlorine here. Perhaps this might lead to a discussion about the best or worst pools / recreation centers in the city.)
  • You can hang your towel in the shower room. Nobody’s going to steal it from this group. But if you come in the evening, you should lock it up: no telling who’s here then. (This might lead to a discussion about the best times to come to the pool.)
  • The sign says you need to shower before entering the pool, but some people seem to think it’s ok to look sidewise at running water. Well, to each his/her own, I always say, but you won’t find those people at our table after class.
  • By the way, do you have to go anywhere later? A group of us always meet for coffee and doughnuts at poolside. You’re welcome to join us…

As you can see, there are many items of discussion that happen in change room, necessitating arriving early for class or being prepared to stay late. Friendships and made and cherished. I can’t speak for men, but information shared in a women’s change room is priceless.

Well, that’s fine. That’s after I get myself there. How do I choose a pool? What do I need to bring with me? What do I need to buy? I am on a fixed income. How much will all this cost? This and much more to come…

About the Author Judy Smith is the author of Native Blood: Nursing on the Reservation (Oberon Press). Check back next month for another edition of Fitness for Newbies, a monthly series designed for people who are entering a specific fitness program or exercising for the first time.

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