By Shavon LeBlanc, First Mile Care DPP Coach

Summer is almost upon us so everybody jump into the pool! Aquatic fitness is an optimal form of exercise; a hidden jewel that is often overlooked. The pressure and resistance of water provide a soothing environment that engages your entire body in building strength and flexibility. 

Why is water a great exercise option? It torches calories! You can burn more calories in an hour-long, high-intensity aquatic class than on the treadmill. Whether you are experiencing joint pain, rehabbing an injury, are pregnant, deconditioned, overweight, or even an athlete — water exercise is an all-inclusive workout that is adaptable to all fitness levels and provides a true fitness challenge.

As part of the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, coaches encourage participants to engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses and diseases. Aquatic classes and swimming are examples of moderate physical exercise that may help participants in reaching the DPP goal of losing 5-7% of starting weight.

Land versus water

When working out on land, there are compound exercises which can target multiple muscle groups at the same time. For example, a squat-to-press movement engages your lower body, core, and upper body within one exercise. 

When working out in the pool, your entire body is targeted, providing a full body workout within one class session. One of the greatest benefits to water-based exercise is that it targets the primary muscles as well as their opposing muscle group. For example, when running in the water, you are getting the benefit of the force of the water targeting both the hamstrings and the quadriceps. When pushing up within the pool, you benefit from targeting the chest muscles, back muscles, and core. 

The buoyancy of water provides the freedom to participate in exercises like squatting and jumping that can be challenging outside of water. This buoyancy also provides the opportunity to increase the intensity of exercise without causing joint pain. Normally, when lifting weights on land, there is a teardown of muscle to build stronger muscle. But the resistance offered by water accomplishes muscle toning without creating joint tension. The force of the water targets your abdominal muscles and builds flexibility, balance, strength, and endurance — all while reducing stress on your joints.

Here are some examples of water-based exercises:

  • Swimming Laps: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly stroke
  • Water walking: walking in patterns, backwards walking, side-to-side walking, single leg balance walking
  • Water running or jogging: water racing, time-based running sequence, wall running, backwards running
  • Water aerobics: integrates exercises such as basketball, bicep curls, boxing, dancing, jumping, lunging, squats, and cross-country skiing

Some people also find they can exercise longer in the pool than on land, due to the cooling effect of water on body temperature.

What you’ll need

Your pool probably provides major gear like water bicycles, treadmills, and elliptical machines. There are several smaller items that you may want to supply yourself if they aren’t otherwise available, such as:

  • Buoyancy belt to assist in floating
  • Foam dumbbells or strap-on wrist or ankle water weights for building resistance
  • Resistance gloves or hand paddles for strength training
  • Kickboard 
  • Fins
  • Goggles or eye mask

However, please don’t use household items like empty water jugs as aqua weights, as they are ineffective and unsafe in the pool.

Developing a routine

When putting together your your aquatic fitness routine, keep in mind the FITT principle

  • Frequency: 3-5 days per week 
  • Intensity: Moderate to Very Intense 
  • Time: 30-45 minutes 
  • Type: swimming laps, aqua stretching, aquatic running or jogging, aqua bicycling, aqua boxing, aquatic boot camp, Aqua Zumba©

For example, First Mile Care participant Katherine Dowling swims laps for up to 30 minutes at her local YMCA twice a week, at the recommendation of her cardiologist. She says, “It’s wonderful to be in the water. Swimming is like a vacation or therapy, as it’s so peaceful and relaxing, and you can think about whatever you want to think about.” 

Aquatic fitness can be enjoyed by everyone. Jump right in; the water’s fine!


To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take the prediabetes risk test and get started today!