What is Aqua Care?
You may have heard the saying “we would like to die young at an old age”. Regular water exercise classes can certainly make this more of a reality as the buoyant properties of water protect the body with the resistive properties gently challenging this special group of students. Water exercise should almost certainly be the first choice of exercise for the older age group. However you, as the leader of this group, will need to be a special instructor with additional knowledge and understanding in order to relate to and allow them to maximise their fitness potential in a friendly and sociable group situation despite any limitations caused by the almost inevitable medical conditions.
Today’s older adults starting water exercise classes are generally well informed, healthier and less frail than 10-20 years ago. Attitudes to ageing are changing and with baby boomers now entering this segment the numbers of potential students is on the increase. Ageing is inevitable but a healthy lifestyle – to include exercise, a positive attitude and high self-esteem – can postpone the ageing process. A sociable programme designed for this age group is guaranteed success. The percentage of potential students in this age group is growing as life expectancy increases. Factors affecting this include improving diets, less heart disease and more health checks. However, students attending these classes will still not be “problem free”. As instructors we can expect to see more overweight or obese students, some highly stressed individuals and many with respiratory and cardiac problems. By initially working on the sociability of the group, we can encourage sedentary and perhaps lonely students to attend regularly and begin to enjoy exercise. This gives you, as an instructor, the opportunity to offer advice and education to enable students to gradually increase their frequency, intensity and duration and work towards current ACSM Guidelines. Individual needs for progression will vary greatly but over time all should have measurable improvements in several areas. Exercise should be for life. You should not stop exercise because you grow old – you grow old because you stop exercise.
Health screening is essential and a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q) should be given to new students with a medical clearance form signed by a health professional if necessary. There may be instances when water exercise is not the best choice and students should be redirected to other forms of exercise if appropriate.
Why is this age group special?
Ageing is part of life and no one can escape it. We will all qualify one day. Ageing is associated with a decrease in sensory perception. Vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch all change with age but the degree of change will vary with individuals. Instructors should be aware of visual impairment and advise students of the best placement in class. Clear, accurate demonstrations using consistent vocabulary will assist. Less efficient hearing is a normal part of the ageing process; therefore care should be taken with the choice and volume of music. Seniors love to recognise the melodies, and instrumentals can be an excellent choice providing they have a minimal amount of tymphony. A microphone will enhance the communication with this age group and clear and concise demonstrations will maximise the students’ interpretation of the moves.
Since memory and mental alertness can be on the decline, the workout needs to be based on the KISS principle (Keep It Simple and Safe) with patterns repeated frequently and progressions learnt and built gradually. Challenge the brain’s agility by teaching some asymmetrical moves to vary the patterns.
Individually, age-influenced body changes vary greatly in their speed of approach. In general, body height and lean body mass will decline while body fat, body weight and the mid-section will all increase. Water exercise, providing some privacy for the body, will minimise any concerns regarding a change in body shape. Care should be taken to use appropriate water depth for individuals.
Seniors’ response time, balance in the water and spatial awareness must be a consideration. Extra time may be needed for “new moves” to be interpreted and travel moves should be added with caution, especially backwards or lateral moves. Be very aware of those inertia currents, which can be too much of a challenge. Ideally, allow extra space in the pool to enable a very mixed strength and ability group to move and exercise in comfort and safety.
The cardiorespiratory system will be less efficient as the years take their toll. Instructors should monitor students and although many will have normal blood pressure levels, either naturally or through medication, others may have undiagnosed high blood pressure and associated issues. Health screening forms should be updated regularly as medical conditions rarely are the same from year to year. Some conditions improve while others deteriorate, often resulting in changes in medication which can affect exercise performance. Teach the Rate of Perceived Exertion to allow students to learn to monitor how they feel. With this age group avoid multi-use of equipment, especially if it demands grip, and encourage students to keep moving gently, even when fatigued, to prevent pooling of the blood in the lower extremities and possible light headedness. These recommendations should assist with keeping blood flow etc within safe limits.
Deconditioned students should be monitored for thermal comfort, as they may be unable to work at a high enough level to achieve thermoregulation. Ageing means the body is less able to cope with temperature changes and body temperature controls are generally less efficient. A good rule would be an extended warm-up and cool-down, together with regular cueing to encourage appropriate breathing patterns, to maximise the efficiency of the body’s various systems.
When teaching the older age group it is appropriate to focus on muscular endurance, as muscular strength will have been lost with ageing. By strengthening the major muscles, function may be restored and students may well find that activities of daily living are both more comfortable and achievable. Full range of motion work in water is both safe and comfortable and can maintain flexibility although ageing will often mean a loss of both joint mobility and elasticity in tendons and cartilage. It is essential to execute the movements in all planes of motion.
Teaching seniors by using the Aqua Care system can be very rewarding. It is essential to make the exercises achievable, be supportive and understanding, avoid failure, acknowledge success and empathise with the group in general. By encouraging socialisation and a sense of belonging, this group of students can make you feel that your work with them is very worthwhile and they will share their success with other students and supply you with positive feedback as their educator and instructor.
Aqua Care is enjoyable exercise for the elderly. An excellent instructor will educate, entertain, ensure enjoyment, extend them, empathise with them, energise them and elevate their mood.
This article has been prepared by Steph Toogood (Hydro-Actif) based on the YMCA Fitness for Health Book, edited by Mary Sanders and the Golden Waves Program.
Steph Toogood is proprietor of Hydro-Actif, specialising in water exercise education worldwide. Hydro-Actif is a stockist of educational materials, clothing and equipment for water exercise. Steph is ACE and AFAA certified, well qualified and highly recognised as an international educator and presenter of water fitness. She was a member of the Water Fitness Committee and a three-star IDEA Presenter. Steph is Education Consultant to Speedo International heading Team Speedo in the UK. She was a Fab After 50 Health Achiever in 1998 and a nominee for Fitness Professionals Fitness Leader of the Year Award 1998. In 2002 Steph was listed in The Independent on Sunday as one of the Top Ten Fitness Experts in Britain.