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Dip into fitness

If the idea of exercising in your bathing suit is unappealing, then the concept of water exercise probably won’t float your boat. But what if you were told that 10 minutes of water exercise is as good as 40 minutes of movement on land, and a bathing suit isn’t necessary. Would you change your mind?

No strain, big gain

Water exercise is a no-impact activity that can strengthen your muscles and heart—without straining bones or joints. This makes aquatic exercise ideal for people with arthritis or severe osteoporosis or anyone with mobility problems. And for those bored with treadmill training or step classes, water exercise is a refreshing way to renew a fitness commitment.

Water takes a burden off your bones by supporting your body weight. In waist-high water, you carry only about half of your actual weight; in shoulder-high water, only 10 percent. Yet unlike air, water provides resistance in any direction you move, maximizing your efforts. While it might not feel like it, you’ll be giving your heart and muscles a vigorous workout and burning more calories than you would on land. (Consider that “pool walking” burns about the same calories per minute as jogging on land.)

Even just resting in a pool is therapeutic. Being immersed in warm water soothes painful joints and relaxes tense muscles.

Class time

While you don’t need an instructor to benefit from simple pool walking, you may find you enjoy the structure of a water aerobics class. Some classes take place solely in the deep or shallow end; others use the whole length of the pool. For 30 to 60 minutes the instructor demonstrates a series of movements for the class to follow. After a warm-up that includes stretching, class members walk or run in place and perform strength movements like biceps curls and leg extensions while keeping limbs underwater. Some movements require a flotation belt, aqua gloves or a kickboard.

Classes end with a cool-down that returns the heart rate to normal.

Dress code

So what about the bathing suit? It’s not a requirement. Gym shorts and a T-shirt will do (call the gym ahead of time to verify). Spandex or Lycra bike-type shorts allow for the most freedom of movement. Some sporting-goods stores also sell water-friendly workout wear.

To protect your feet from the pool’s rough surface, your instructor may recommend rubber or “aqua” slippers.

Ask your doctor if water exercise can help you. Perhaps he or she can recommend a local class.