Tear up a knee on the slopes? Or perhaps all that jogging has caught up with your ankles? Maybe you've just given birth and are looking for a way to ease back into aerobic exercise. Here's a prescription the doctor might order: water exercise. Working out in the shallow end of a pool offers benefits other forms of exercise can't. And with the first of the baby boomers now in their mid-40s, health experts see growing interest in exercise that's easier on the limbs.
Water exercise can be as simple as walking or jogging across a pool or as complicated as an hour of twists, kicks, and stretches. Either way, it can make for a strenuous cardiovascular workout without hurting muscles, ligaments, bones, or joints. And water can help heal injured joints by stimulating blood circulation.
If you're recuperating from cardiac surgery or have others reasons to worry about overwinding your ticker, taking to the water has another benefit: Because of water's cooling effect, you don't get overheated and can derive full aerobic benefits without making your heart pump faster to cool your body, according to Lynne Vaughan, director of health and fitness programs at YMCA of the USA, an umbrella group for some 2,000 YMCAs around the country.
DO-IT-YOURSELF. It's easy to get started in the water, but if you're out of shape, see a doctor first. Next, you can contact your local Y or parks and recreation department. In the Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Robert Reagan, assistant recreation manager, says 12 weeks of hour-long classes that meet three times a week cost $48. If you belong to a private health club, chances are it offers some form of water exercise. Atlanta's Peachtree Center Athletic Club conducts such classes four times a week.
Or you can teach yourself. One way is to pick up The W. E. T. Workout ($12.95, Facts on File Publications, New York) by Jane Katz, a City University of New York physical-education professor and medal-winning swimmer. The illustrated paperback runs through the basic Water Exercise Techniques and describes a 12-week course to take a beginner through a 30-minute series of exercises.
Once you've covered the basics, you can vary your routine by picking up some gear--a kickboard, for example. To help build biceps and triceps, simply stand in the shallow end and use the kickboard to push water away from you. The effect, says Vaughan, is like doing push- ups. But you don't get your hands dirty.